LINCOLN — Voters could choose to take a dramatic step toward reducing local property taxes under a constitutional amendment proposed on Wednesday.
State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion is proposing that the state take over financing of all “classroom expenses” of local, K-12 schools, relieving property taxes from funding teacher salaries, books and other costs. Expenses for buildings and administrators would likely remain a local responsibility.
The rural senator, who has offered several proposals to reduce property taxes, said that voter approval of such a proposal would address one of the main drivers of the state’s “crisis” of high property taxes — Nebraska’s lack of support for local schools, which ranks near the bottom nationally.
Briese estimated that it would shift about 60% of the cost of K-12 schools to the state. Because rural schools get far less state aid than the state’s largest school districts, the impact would be biggest in farming and ranching areas.
“For far too long the State of Nebraska has shirked its obligation to provide for the ‘free education’ of its students. Instead, the state has continually chosen to pass on the bulk of the cost of public education to its property tax payers,” Briese said.
“To me, the answer is clear ... put more state dollars into K-12 education,” he said.
The proposal, Legislative Resolution 21CA, comes a year after state lawmakers tried, but failed, to boost state aid to local schools, and comes a few days after Gov. Pete Ricketts warned that if the Legislature doesn’t do more to reduce the state’s traditionally high property taxes, voters would take matters into their own hands.
The governor was referring to citizen-led, rather than Legislature-led, initiatives to curb government spending and taxes. But Briese said that the voters deserve to decide whether the state needs to step up its financial support.
The senator said that the state might have to look at new or higher taxes to pick up classroom expenses. But, Briese said, the state already provides about $1 billion in state aid to education each year, and devotes about $400 million to credits to reduce property taxes. So, possibly, it wouldn’t require that much heavy lifting, he said.
A key senator on property tax issues, Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, said that it’s not fair that a small number of large school districts get the bulk of state aid and more than 200 small, rural schools get very little. So, she said, Briese’s proposal deserves discussion.
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Gay panic. Defendants would not be able to use a “gay panic” defense under LB 321, introduced by Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha. The bill would bar courts from considering evidence that a defendant’s actions resulted from finding out or knowing a crime victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
Malcolm X Day. The birthday of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, also known as Malcolm X, would become a state holiday under LB 349, introduced by Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha. El-Shabazz was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha. He grew up to become an influential Black leader, who was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965.
School safety hotline. A school threat report system, called Safe2HelpNE, would be created under LB 322, introduced by Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg. The system would include a report line, where school staff, students, parents and community members could report information about possible threats.
Omaha City Council. The council would expand from seven members to nine, by 2025, under a proposal by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne.
New prison. Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop proposed to provide $52 million to construct a 300-bed expansion to the community corrections prison in Omaha. It would be an alternative to the Ricketts administration’s proposal to build a $230 million, 1,500-bed, maximum-medium-security facility to relieve overcrowding.