I recently had the opportunity to travel across Nebraska to visit with Farm Bureau members to talk about our efforts to secure property tax relief during the 2015 Legislative session. It was the first of what I hope will be several trips to connect with members on taxes and other key issues.
This particular trip started in Hastings and went west to Sidney. Along the way, I stopped to do several radio, television and newspaper interviews to explain why property taxes are such a point of concern for farm and ranch families and to outline what we believe are possible solutions to relieve a growing property tax problem.
It was a great experience, but a very real reminder that we have a lot of work to do in communicating the need for property tax relief, whether that be to members of the media or to our elected officials who will ultimately vote on key tax relief initiatives.
In making our case, I often point out that while property taxes are too high in general, they are particularly challenging for farmers and ranchers because of the nature of our business. Land is basic to farming or ranching. No occupation requires as much land as agriculture does. I talk about the fact that taxes on agriculture land have increased 162 percent since 2004, while residential and commercial land taxes during the same time have experienced considerably smaller increases.
I also point out that while farmers and ranchers represent less than three percent of our state’s population, we are now paying nearly one-third of the total property taxes collected statewide. A fact that clearly illustrates our statewide property tax burden is completely out of balance.
I’ve actually had some people (not farmers or ranchers) indicate to me that they don’t see a problem with so few people paying such a large portion of the property tax. I don’t understand that line of thinking and I’m not sure why any Nebraskans should be proud of a tax system that places the responsibility for the majority of funding for local government and schools on the backs of a small group of people. I guess the idea of equity in the state’s tax system wasn’t something these individuals cared about.
Having said that, it points out that we in agriculture have much work to do in explaining why property taxes are of such great concern. Nebraska Farm Bureau will continue to lead the way to find solutions that provide equity in our property tax system and tax relief to farm and ranch families.
Until next month,
Steve Nelson, President, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation