Legislature to Reconvene July 20 Facing Decisions on Property Taxes, Incentives

May 18, 2020, 5:55 p.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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The Nebraska Legislature will reconvene July 20 facing major decisions on property taxes, business incentives and hospital construction in the face of an expected decline in tax revenues.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer announced plans to finish the legislative session, beginning July 20 and ending August 13. The session was interrupted by the coronavirus in mid-March, except for three days later that month when lawmakers met to pass an emergency appropriation to fight the virus. Scheer say he took various factors into account in deciding when to resume. He said those included the need to work around holidays including Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, the need for time to install clear plastic barriers between senators’ desks, the idea that midsummer heat may help fight the virus, and the progression of cases in the state.

“Although our numbers may be increasing as far as people infected, we are starting to ramp up our testing. The percentages I think are dropping or not increasing and at least we’ve probably hit that plateau and certainly within 60 days it will be there. And if not, I reserve the right to say ‘Wait a minute, we’re not ready yet,’ Scheer said.

In his daily coronavirus news conference, Gov. Pete Ricketts was asked what he thinks lawmakers should concentrate on when they return.

“Property tax relief – that’s a big one, we’ve got to get that done. And then the incentive bill. I think those will both have to go together to be able to get the votes that we need to be able to pass both of those, or either one of those for that matter. So, I think they should focus on property tax relief and getting the incentive bill passed,” Ricketts said.

The idea had been to use healthy state tax revenues to lower local property taxes by increasing state aid to schools, and to update the state’s effort to attract new business by lowering the taxes they would have to pay. But with state revenues expected to take a hit from the pandemic-induced slowdown in business, Ricketts said people and businesses should lower their expectations about how much property tax relief or incentives they will get.

Scheer agreed with Ricketts about priorities, and said they should be combined with a proposal for a new hospital and education center proposed for the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. He also agreed there would be less money available than previously expected for the time being. But Scheer said senators have an obligation to look to the future, and lead.

“There’s not a lot of dollars available now, but I think if it’s structured correctly, those dollars can become available in future years. And if they don’t become available, then certainly, it’s up to those future legislators that can make those adjustments at whatever point in time they think they’re necessary,” he said.