In early June I had the opportunity to attend the 2016 Cattlemen’s Ball hosted by the Linemann Family near Princeton, Nebraska. The Ball is a tremendous event targeted to raising funds for cancer research. If you’ve never been, I’d encourage you to put it on your list of things to do and see in Nebraska. Congratulations to the Linemann family and all those who helped make this year’s event a major success!
Not only is the Ball a fun time for a great cause, it’s a good way to connect with people from across the state. During the Ball I had the chance to talk to many farmers and ranchers. Not surprisingly, property taxes and concerns about profitability in agriculture were the top two issues on people’s minds. As margins in agriculture have tightened, the squeeze of higher property tax bills have only added more financial pressure to farm and ranch families. With property valuation notices hitting mailboxes in June its only added to the seriousness of the need to address this issue.
I don’t need to repeat the numbers, but I will. Over the last 10 years property taxes collected on agricultural land statewide have increased 176 percent. Commercial and residential property taxes have also climbed by 49 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Nebraska’s three-legged tax stool of property, income and sales tax is out of balance. Property taxes now account for 48 percent of total collections of the three, with income taxes at 32 percent and sales taxes at 20 percent of statewide collections.
We have to bring balance to our tax structure and alleviate the over-reliance on property taxes. As we head into the heat of the summer, I want you as a Farm Bureau member to know this when it comes to the property tax issue:
Farm Bureau will continue to lead the charge to fix this problem. This isn’t an easy issue, but it is not an impossible one either. There are numerous ideas and approaches to better balance the tax burden and alleviate the pressure on property taxes. We’ve offered solutions in the past and we’ll continue to do so. We’re fleshing out new ideas, even as I write this. We are committed to this issue.
We have expectations of the Legislature. There are good people in the Nebraska Legislature who are interested in making sound tax policy for Nebraskans. The Legislature is still our first best means to solve the property tax problem. As we’ve always done, we will bring ideas to the legislature and work together with Nebraska senators to find solutions. With that said, the Legislature needs to act. Kicking the can down the road won’t cut it. We’ll continue to do everything we can to work with senators to make progress in the legislative arena.
We’re willing to be patient, but there must be a final destination. Baseball analogies are often used to discuss the property tax problem. I continue to hear the terminology “bunts and singles” when it comes to fixes for property taxes. “Bunts and singles” will not solve the problem unless you string enough of them together to score runs and ultimately win. I’ve testified before the legislature that if it takes multiple years to solve this issue, we’re willing to do that. But there must be a clearly identified end goal, with a plan for how that is accomplished.
All Nebraskans, not just farmers and ranchers deserve better. They say a rising tide raises all ships. While our farm and ranch members have been hit the hardest by property tax increases, we know many Nebraskans share those concerns and they’ve relayed those to their elected leaders. Our solutions to balance the property tax burden will work for all Nebraskans.
Doing nothing is not an option. I know you want this issue addressed. Many of you have reached out to the team at Nebraska Farm Bureau urging action. I also know some members are looking at alternatives beyond the legislature. As I said before, the legislature is our first best solution, but we are open to looking at all options to make the reforms needed to bring balance to our tax system.
As always, I want to thank you for being a Farm Bureau member. Farm Bureau exists to serve you and I always welcome your thoughts, input and ideas as we work together to address this critical issue.
Until Next Time,
Steve Nelson, President, Nebraska Farm Bureau