A once-in-a-generation opportunity for tax reform and education funding 

By Dave Welsch, farmer and president of the Milford School Board

LB 1084, Sen. Tom Briese’s combined property tax relief and school funding bill, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Let me explain this bold statement.

In the mid-1960s, two generations ago, the state of Nebraska ended statewide property tax. At about the same time, the state began collecting both sales and income taxes. These were all bold moves for generating income for the state.

In 1990, one generation ago, the legislature enacted TEEOSA, the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act. A major component of this legislation was equalization aid to help balance the financial support for all students across Nebraska.

Sen. Scott Moore, who cosponsored the TEEOSA legislation, presented opening remarks at the hearing. He began his comments by stating, "this piece of legislation has the potential to be probably the biggest piece of legislation we passed in this legislature in the last 20 years, and probably the next 20 years after that." This legislation became a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Today, 28 years later, the 49 senators of the Nebraska Legislature have the same once-in-a-generation opportunity in LB 1084.

We all know there are problems with overreliance on property taxes and with the way schools are financed. Sen. Briese’s LB 1084 addresses both of those concerns.

By raising revenues through closing tax loopholes, expanding the sales tax base and implementing a series of other income generators, LB 1084 outlines the dollars needed to make property tax relief and state funding for schools achievable. It also provides a path for a review of how we pay for K-12 public education in the state, a truly once-in-a-generation opportunity.

The citizens of Nebraska are often referred to as the second house of the legislature. That second house has come together in the past year to help draft LB 1084. The diversity of these citizens, and their willingness to work together for the common good, is nothing but amazing.

Major farm organizations like Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, and the Grange have all worked together on this bill. Six agricultural commodity groups and associations came to the table on this bill. The state teachers’ association, along with administrators and several school associations, have collaborated on this bill. These groups don’t normally work together on legislation. But, for the good of Nebraska, they have come together to create a solution to our property tax and school funding concerns.                

Is LB 1084 perfect? No. My personal belief is that education should be strongly funded by income tax. There is a strong correlation between the amount of education a person receives and their level of income during their lifetime.

A lot of people will not like this legislation and will lobby against it. Many of the exemptions proposed to be repealed in LB 1084 were enacted during the past 10 years through aggressive lobbying efforts. Yet, LB 1084 is a worthy compromise.

The legislature needs to stand firm and take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the balance of educational funding and provide property tax relief as well.

Dave Welsch of Milford, Nebraska, is a farmer and 20-year member of the Milford School Board, currently serving as president.