Governor talks plans to cut property taxes in Nebraska, during townhall meeting in York

YORK – About 60 people attended a townhall meeting Monday at the York Country Club, as Governor Jim Pillen talked about his motivation to see property taxes cut in Nebraska.

In a nutshell, he said he believes a 3% cap on budget growth for counties, municipalities and school districts could help achieve this goal. He also feels increased sales taxes on certain discretionary services and for certain discretionary products (such as cigarettes, pop and candy) could help create revenue to replace funds that have otherwise come from property tax.

He also said he feels the proposed EPIC theory (to replace all taxes with sales tax, which is being promoted by special interest groups) isn’t feasible.

Meanwhile, he also reiterated his stance of his not being a politician – which is why he believes he can help achieve his goal.

“Politicians haven’t been able to get these things done,” he said, “and that’s why I believe I can, because I’m not a politician. I don’t do politics.”

He was introduced to the group by Lisa Hurley, director of the York County Development Corporation, which helped facilitate the event. In attendance were York County Commissioner leaders, York City leaders, local business owners and managers, local farmers and interested persons in general.

He talked about his feelings regarding how Nebraskans need to brag about Nebraskans, appreciate “who we are, who the people are and what we can do together. We need to work on our culture of life and love. All of us, regardless of age, have the ability to make a first impression – we don’t know how we can affect the life of another in a positive way.”

Governor Pillen talked about how he was impacted by a comment from someone at a recent event, who told him the decisions and attitudes we have today can have impact for seven generations.

“I think about that now, all the time,” Governor Pillen said. “I’ve been out and about in all areas of the state for three years now and I find almost all of us believe in faith, farm, hard work and the American dream, making a better world for our kids and grandkids. The key is to recognize where the noise comes from – which are the invisible keyboard warriors who are trying to mix it all up. What you can be on as long as I am governor is it’s about supporting our kids, our future; agriculture; cutting taxes; and our common values.”

He said he is a proponent of trade-based secondary education offerings and pushing those even further with “double shift trade classes” to train more young people for crucial jobs important to the economy and Nebraska way of life.

When it comes to property tax reform, he recognizes the state “is down to crunch time” as only a few days are left in the legislative session.

“The property tax situation is not a valuation problem,” Governor Pillen said. “It’s a spending problem. The proposal at hand is to have hard caps on growth of municipal, county and school district spending.”

He also acknowledged most county, city and school boards already keep their spending growth under 3% annually, so the cap wouldn’t be devastating to most.

Governor Pillen said most property taxpayers aren’t “good about attending local budget meetings” and he encourages that effort.

The governor revisited 2007 when the push for ethanol was made – and how that greatly benefited agricultural counties and states. But he says one of the residual effects was the trend of higher and higher prices for acres of agricultural land.

“The price of ag land started going up and up, and our property taxes started escalating,” Governor Pillen said.

“We wake up today with our property taxes being completely out of whack,” he said. “I’m committed to solving this problem. I am trying to listen and learn and make the right decisions for Nebraska. We rank number seven for property taxes in the nation – and this is not a top ten ranking we want.”

He says, in the past, the state went through nearly 10 years of deflation, “yet our state spent money at a 5-10% rate of increase each year. We have to fix our past sins and address where we are now. In the last five years, property tax revenue has seen one hell of an increase.”

Governor Pillen also said half of property owners in Nebraska haven’t utilized the state’s property tax credit program “because it’s too complicated. We are addressing that.”

“We can decrease spending and improve services,” Governor Pillen said. “That’s what we do in Nebraska. It’s not going to take anything heroic, it’s pretty simple. We need to do more with less and property tax reform is critical now.”

When it came to the topic of the proposed EPIC scenario, he said if it ever passed, “it would create a problem” as Nebraskans would purchase items elsewhere (to avoid paying high sales tax) and local businesses would greatly suffer.

When it came time to take questions, the governor said he is greatly concerned about the situation at the southern border of the United States, citing human and drug trafficking at the forefront, as well as the influx of terrorists into the county. He said Nebraska troops will soon be sent back to the border. “This is a problem for Nebraska as well. This is a threat to Nebraska as well.”

York County Commissioner Chairman Randy Obermier asked about the property tax cap the governor wants to see happen, noting how inflation has affected the prices counties, cities, villages and school districts are facing. “With the increased costs of everything, how do we say that we can no longer provide certain services?”

The governor responded, “The good news is that inflation is back down and we can’t base policy on crazy times.”

But he also acknowledged that decades-old mandates have been placed on local government entities, which account for about 22% of spending. “Let’s clean those up, let’s clean those out. We have to change those, which would save a lot of spending.”

When it came to the ongoing call from certain people in the legislature, to get rid of state inheritance tax, which is another source of revenue for counties, the governor said he felt “we can find more common ground there, I feel.”

“I truly feel we can all make a difference,” the governor said. “Together, we can.”


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