Property tax measure for agriculture advances to final vote

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Farm Forum

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – A property tax measure designed to benefit Nebraska’s farm and ranch landowners advanced to a final vote in the Legislature on April 7 after a state senator who criticized it ended his filibuster.

Lawmakers gave the bill second-round approval after less than an hour of debate. The vote followed two days of procedural stall tactics led mostly by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.

Chambers stopped his prolonged comments and allowed the measure to advance, saying he had spoken with Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley after a contentious exchange.

On April 6, Chambers said he was upset because a bill to legalize medical marijuana was blocked and because senators advanced a Republican-backed bill to reinstate the winner-take-all system in presidential elections.

The bill by Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island would provide an additional $20 million for tax credits to offset local property taxes on agricultural land. It’s one of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ top priorities, even though the governor’s original proposal to impose spending controls on local governments was scrapped. The proposal was also watered down to remove budget restrictions on community colleges, which some senators have criticized for their spending.

“I think what we’re left with is a good bill,” Gloor said. “It’s a start.”

Some lawmakers initially opposed the measure, arguing that it would create budget hardships for the state next year and do little for people who don’t work in agriculture.

The measure would increase the total amount in the state’s property tax credit fund to $224 million a year, from the current $204 million. The tax credits for residential and commercial property owners would remain unchanged, while the credits for farm and ranch land owners would rise by $20 million.

The shift wouldn’t take place until 2017, meaning it wouldn’t affect the current budget, but the delay raised concerns that lawmakers will have to figure out how to pay for it next year.

Farm groups point to soaring property values that have increased their taxes, even though farm incomes are declining in tandem with commodity prices.