LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska lawmakers are drawing this year’s session to an end, but some are pushing for more time to address persistent complaints about property taxes.
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer told lawmakers Wednesday that they will receive a letter from the Nebraska secretary of state’s office asking whether they want to convene a special session to try to lower property taxes.
The announcement came after Sen. Tom Brewer, of Gordon, submitted a formal request for a session that would likely convene at the end of April. Brewer’s letter included 12 co-signers, mostly from rural areas where soaring farmland values have led to sharply higher property taxes even though commodity prices remain low.
At least 33 of the Legislature’s 49 senators would need to sign Brewer’s request to force Gov. Pete Ricketts to call them into a special session, which would be unprecedented in recent history. The idea faces long odds and Ricketts argued this week that lawmakers “shouldn’t even be considering” a special session because they likely wouldn’t accomplish anything.
Brewer said lawmakers should exhaust every possible option in the face of a possible ballot measure that would divert more than $1 billion in state revenue toward tax credits for property owners. Critics have said the ballot measure would disrupt the state budget and could lead to state tax increases. Property taxes are levied by local governments.
“How can (senators) go back to the people and say, ‘I did everything I could on property taxes,’ when we didn’t?” Brewer said. “This is an option that’s available.”
Every vote against a special session “is going to empower that ballot initiative,” he added.
Nebraska’s last special session took place in 2011, when then-Gov. Dave Heineman summoned lawmakers to the Capitol to pass oil pipeline legislation amid complaints about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Scheer said lawmakers are free to vote how they wish, but he noted that he personally doesn’t support a special session. A last-ditch attempt to reach a compromise over the weekend failed, leaving lawmakers and Ricketts with no major property tax legislation this year. Ricketts had proposed a combination of property and corporate income tax cuts, but that proposal didn’t get enough support to pass.
“This is well-intentioned, from my perspective, but I don’t believe it allows us anywhere near the time and preparation (necessary) to facilitate any type of solution,” Scheer said.
The secretary of state’s office gave lawmakers until April 23 at 5 p.m. to return a form that requests a special session. If enough senators signed and return the form, Scheer said the special session could begin sometime around April 28 or 29.
The timing could dissuade some senators from backing the proposal because it would force them into session just before Nebraska’s May 15 primary, a time when many are campaigning for re-election. The special session would also begin about two weeks after lawmakers ended their regular 60-day session, which was filled with late nights and bitter debates that frustrated many senators.
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