Legislature deadlocks on property taxes; Krist defends pro-life record

April 6, 2018, 5:59 a.m. ·

Speaker Jim Scheer urges property tax negotiations Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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The Nebraska Legislature deadlocked over property tax relief Friday, leaving hopes for any legislative action on that subject depending on negotiations between senators.

It’s that time in the legislative session where if it’s a day ending in “y,” there’s talk about property tax relief. Friday was no exception, as Sens. Curt Friesen and Tom Briese discussed their ideas of how to bring it about.

Friesen was upfront about his approach, suggesting it has a lot of support from farmers hard hit by rising property taxes in his largely rural district. “Ever since I ran for election, I’ve told people I’m willing to raise taxes to fix the property tax problem. I ran unopposed. I’m willing to raise taxes. But it’s going to be for property tax relief,” Friesen said. “You want to paint me as a tax and spend liberal? Go ahead. I’m running unopposed again.”

Friesen wants to increase state school aid to rural districts. Briese wants to raise sales and cigarette taxes to help pay for that increased aid.

Sen. Jim Smith, chairman of the revenue committee, criticized that as a half-billion dollar tax increase, and particularly criticized the regressive nature of a cigarette tax increase. “There’s a study that was published in 2012 found American smokers making less than $30,000 a year spent approximately 14 percent of their annual income on cigarettes, compared to those earning more than 60,000 who spent less than two percent of income on cigarettes. Shame on you for going after the lower income earners,” Smith said.

Briese wasn’t having it. “I heard someone suggest I ought to be ashamed of myself for wanting to raise the cigarette tax. But when we have the 40th highest cigarette taxes and the fifth highest property taxes on ag land in the country, something’s out of whack there,” Briese said. “What I’m ashamed of is having the fifth highest property taxes on ag land in the country. I’m ashamed of having the sixth or seventh highest property taxes on our urban homeowners.”

Senators debated the issue for three hours without reaching a vote on the issue before a frustrated Speaker Jim Scheer proposed senators try to negotiate a compromise in his office. “We’ll shut the doors. I don’t care what the lobby says. I don’t care what the governor says. We should be working for something that benefits the state of Nebraska. Not next year, this year,” Scheer said.

Scheer said senators were going to negotiate in his office after the Legislature adjourned Friday afternoon. The results of those negotiations, if they occur, should be visible when the Legislature reconvenes on Monday.

Also Friday, Sen. Bob Krist, a former Republican now running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, brought a bit of the governor’s race onto the floor of the Legislature.

Referring to prolife demonstrators who protested at a recent campaign fundraiser, Krist declared he is prolife “from conception to natural death and everything in between.”

“I am now a Democrat and I believe I am closer to my prolife beliefs than than I’ve ever been before. Because it’s the ‘everything in between’ that is so important to me…I will not be challenged on my beliefs,” Krist said. He cited cited his support of a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, along with his support of prenatal and other expanded medical care.

Krist initially opposed a proposal by Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts that is expected to prevent federal family planning funds from going to Planned Parenthood, arguing that issue didn’t belong in the budget. Ann Marie Bowen, president of Nebraskans United for Life, said members of that group carried signs saying “Defund Planned Parenthood” outside a Krist fundraiser in Omaha recently. Bowen said Krist promised to support efforts to do that when he ran for election to the Legislature. And she dismissed his argument that the issue didn’t belong in the budget bill. “I don’t care how big a bill it is, how small a bill it is. I don’t care what portion of the bill it is. What we care about is unborn children and women that are being harmed and killed by abortion,” Bowen said.

Krist eventually voted for the budget, which contains language forbidding family planning funds from going to any organization that provides abortions, but also includes money for other programs that are running short, including child welfare.