LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers rejected a $7.5 million per year boost in the state’s property tax credit program Thursday, saying the issue should wait for the results of a planned tax study.
The proposal, offered by State Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, would have provided an additional $4.56 worth of credit on $100,000 of valuation.
His amendment garnered 14 votes, well short of the 25 needed to become part of the state budget package.
Schilz acknowledged that the increase would represent only a token amount.
But he argued the Legislature needed to ensure the tax study deals with the most-complained-about tax in the state.
“The question is, will you start here today and show the Nebraska public we mean business?” he asked.
Other senators said the proposal should be considered along with other tax reform ideas during the summer and fall.
Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff said the proposal should not be done without a plan for Nebraska’s tax future.
“It’s going to end up being a tax shift, nothing else,” he said.
The property tax credit program currently provides $115 million a year of credits against property owners’ tax bills. Money for the program comes from the state general fund, meaning income and sales tax revenue.
The vote came more than 11 hours into debate about the $7.8 billion, two-year state budget package. Many more hours of discussion appear to lie ahead.
This year’s budget deliberations contrast with those two years ago, when it took Nebraska lawmakers less than four hours to dispatch the state budget.
Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha said he welcomed the lengthy discussion.
“I think our constituents expect us to have a robust, hearty debate about the state budget,” he said. “When you contemplate spending this kind of money, it’s important to have this kind of discussion.”
Senators continued with debate about the main budget bill on Thursday.
Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha proposed to cut about $200,000 worth of spending over the two years that was intended to restore a railroad track inspector position. The position had been left vacant as part of the state’s budget-cutting measures two years ago.
Most of the debate Wednesday focused on less than $1 million of the total budget.
Lawmakers rejected two other amendments, and three were withdrawn without a vote on Wednesday.
The longest discussion centered on a McCoy amendment to shift $150,000 each year away from collecting climate data and into a water management fund.
Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, the Appropriations Committee chairman, said federal funds that have paid for the data collection are disappearing and the $150,000 would ensure that state agencies could continue to get Nebraska weather data.
McCoy questioned whether the loss of federal funds was certain and whether the money would be better spent on water studies. He also questioned whether the budget bill should specify that the data collection would continue to be done by the University of Nebraska.
McCoy eventually withdrew the amendment.
Sen. Scott Price of Bellevue offered, then withdrew, an amendment to cut state support for the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties by $75,000 each year. A frequent critic of the Learning Community, he objected to using state funds to teach English to parents older than 21.
Opponents said cutting the funding would hamper efforts to improve early childhood education programs in the Omaha area.
Sen. Tom Hansen of North Platte targeted a $250,000 per year increase in funding for nurses to visit at-risk mothers and babies. He said the program was too costly and that new mothers should be getting help from grandmothers, sisters and friends.
Lawmakers voted down the amendment after opponents argued that nurse visitation programs have proven successful in improving the health and well-being of babies.
World-Herald staff writer Paul Hammel contributed to this report.
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