Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Lincoln Journal Star. February 15, 2024.

Editorial: Raiding funds a bad way to start tax relief

Gov. Jim Pillen wants to cut Nebraska’s property taxes by 40%. But he and his legislative allies can’t find an acceptable way to pay for the $2 billion reduction.

The main deal floated, increasing the state sales tax from 5.5 cents to 7.5 cents, drew immediate opposition. And Sen. Lou Ann Linehan’s bill that would have increased sales tax by a penny rather than two was opposed by business groups, advocates for children, older Nebraskans, low-income families and even organizations that work for lower taxes.

Raising the sales tax plan would be, as former Gov. Pete Ricketts maintained, a tax shift, not tax relief. And that shift would be regressive, passing the burden on to those least able to pay while rewarding those with more and more expensive property.

The second component of the plan would move nearly $274 million of state cash funds to property tax relief, a shift needed to keep the state budget in the black for six months, until the increased sales tax revenues, and sales taxes on more goods and services enter the state’s coffers.

That plan, too, drew significant, well-founded opposition at its legislative hearing.

Simply put, by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, taking money from the 31 funds that hold user fees and other dedicated revenues and putting it to a different use should, and has been, only used in a recession, when the state needs help balancing the budget.

The other disturbing element of the fund shift plan is that it is, essentially, a bait-and-switch proposal that would transfer money paid in for a purpose supported by those paying the fees to property tax relief, for which it wasn’t intended.

For example, $1.5 million of the Litter Reduction and Recycling Fund, paid by businesses selling bottled drinks and used to promote recycling and keeping public areas clean, would be included in the transfer. If the money isn’t used for designated purposes, the businesses, like grocery stores, would be unlikely to support the renewal of the fees they pay into the fund.

The plan’s aim to take $13.25 million of the interest from the Nebraska Universal Service Fund, obligated for telecommunications projects across the state, very well might be unconstitutional.

That cascade of opposition and legal questions should make the cash fund grab a nonstarter.

And the thought that sales tax exemptions on goods and services will be repealed to add more money for property tax relief is hard to fathom. Just ask former Gov. Dave Heineman, how well that idea will go over and the odds of it passing through the Legislature.

Massive property tax relief remains a laudable goal. But it’s beyond difficult to see how the state will be able to generate that kind of money in a way that can be supported by the largest number of taxpayers, which, in the case of sales tax, are all Nebraskans.

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McCook Gazette. February 15, 2024.

Editorial: Ibach bill would protect public health, natural resources

State Sen. Teresa Ibach doesn’t represent McCook in the Nebraska Legislature, but we should thank her for one of her current efforts every time we pay our city water bill.

That’s because she’s attempting to deal with one of the main issues that has caused that expense to balloon over the years, not to mention the more important issue of public health.

Sen. Ibach of Sumner, whose district covers counties to our west and northeast, has introduced Legislative Bill 1368 in an attempt to reduce nitrate contamination in groundwater.

A persistent nitrate problem is what forced McCook to search for a better source of groundwater back in the 1980s. In that process, we discovered a whole ’nother problem, TCE contamination from the old TRW plant, but that’s an entirely different issue, which has been dealt with for the most part.

After expensive, abortive attempts to find other sources of clean water, we settled on a then-state-of-the-art water treatment plant, costing $14 million to build and upwards of a million dollars a year to operate.

It may be too late to reduce local water bills, but LB1368 should help other communities avoid the threat to health and expense.

The Nitrogen Reduction Incentive Act seeks to incentivize farmers to adopt sustainable practices, thereby reducing the excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers that contribute to groundwater pollution.

Senator Ibach’s foresight addresses not only the immediate need to safeguard public health but also the long-term imperative of preserving our natural resources for future generations.

Nitrates in groundwater are a serious threat. One in five public water supplies and private wells in Nebraska tests high for nitrate contamination. This isn’t just an abstract concern; it’s a direct threat to the health and well-being of our communities. Nitrate pollution has been linked to adverse health effects, including an increased risk of pediatric cancer, and poses significant environmental risks such as harmful algae blooms and the creation of dead zones in water bodies.

By offering financial incentives to farmers who transition away from synthetic fertilizers towards biological alternatives, such as seed coatings with nitrogen-fixing microbes, Sen. Ibach’s bill provides a tangible pathway toward positive change. These incentives not only reward farmers for adopting sustainable, more cost-effective practices but also empower them to be stewards of the land, contributing to both environmental protection and agricultural resilience.

Importantly, the Nitrogen Reduction Incentive Act has garnered support and endorsement from a diverse array of stakeholders, including agricultural organizations, environmental advocates, and business chambers. This broad coalition reflects the recognition that addressing nitrate contamination is not just a matter of environmental concern but also an economic imperative. Clean water is essential for agricultural productivity, tourism, and overall quality of life in Nebraska.

Critics may question the effectiveness of past efforts or the scope of the proposed incentives, but the urgency of the issue demands action.

We cannot afford to let inertia or skepticism paralyze us in the face of a growing environmental crisis. Sen. Ibach’s bill represents a proactive and pragmatic approach to addressing nitrate pollution, setting the stage for meaningful progress in safeguarding our water resources.

As the legislative process unfolds, it is incumbent upon lawmakers to prioritize the public interest and support measures that promote sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. The Nitrogen Reduction Incentive Act embodies these principles and deserves swift passage into law. Let us seize this opportunity to lead by example, demonstrating our commitment to protecting Nebraska’s water quality and securing a healthier, more sustainable future for all.

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