Property tax reform is expected to be a key focus area when Nebraska’s Unicameral Legislature resumes its session on July 20.
But with no real consensus among the state’s lawmakers on what direction to take to achieve that measure, the question is whether voters might be the best one’s to determine the future of the issue.
The answer to that question was a resounding “yes” Monday night during a public discussion on the issue Monday night during the Western Nebraska Virtual Property Tax Town Hall hosted by the Platte Institute.
The interactive event, one of four that the Institute is sponsoring across the state was conducted through a Zoom meeting that lasted roughly an hour and featured a series of poll questions during the night that were followed by public input on the issues.
Of the participants polled on Monday, 62% said they believe the Nebraska voters would do the best job in the adoption of changes to the Nebraska property tax law. The Legislators received 27% of the vote.
Voters could get a tax reform initiative on the ballot through a petition drive such as was done for the both the medical marijuana and also legalized gambling questions.
“(Petition) drives certainly seem to be the way things get done when they get logged up in the Legislature these days,” said Laura Ebke, a senior fellow with the Platte Institute and former state senator. “I think its important to keep that option open for the second house ... but one of the dangers with that is it doesn’t go through the same type of hearing process and analysis. If it gets enacted, then the policy-makers have to figure out how to make it work.”
Bill Knapper, a participant from Scottsbluff, said that is one reason why he feels the “ballot-box democracy” might not be the best move on what is a complex issue.
“I am looking for the leadership of this state to take this issue on and they haven’t yet,” Knapper said. “I would hate to see Nebraska come along with a solution like the TABOR (amendment) in Colorado or Prop-13 in California and end up with some bad legislation that really hamstrings the state and prevents us from moving forward.
“What I would like to see is the participants in this town hall get together with our area senators and try to figure out what we need to do.”
A total of 55% of the participants also said that in order to reduce local property taxes, they would be willing to reduce government spending — event if it resulted in the cuts of services, including public education, health programs or road maintenance.
“This is a challenge for both policy makers and citizens,” Ebke said. “When push comes to shove, we all like our roads to be good, we all like our public schools and think that our teachers should be paid fairly. Yet we don’t want to spend the money to do that. The money has to come from some place.”