(The Center Square) – A Nebraska state senator wants to cap the amount of money local school systems can collect from property taxes.
Under a proposed constitutional amendment introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer, R-Gordon, school systems could collect no more than 33% of their budgets from property taxes.
About 70% of school funding in Nebraska is from property taxes, compared to 40% nationally, Brewer told The Center Square.
“There’s a point where that spending becomes so great, the school districts are putting the landowners in a bad position, especially in our rural areas,” Brewer said.
If the legislation passes and voters then approve the measure, it would require the state to come up with an additional $670 million for schools, Brewer said.
At the same time, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is supporting a constitutional amendment to limit local property taxes increases to 3% per year, which would include property taxes paid to public schools and other local government agencies.
The group Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom supports Brewer’s proposed legislation, the groups president, Doug Kagan, told The Center Square.
“Property taxes are the most stable form of revenue for local school districts,” Kagan said. “That’s why school systems like property taxes so much because even during a recession or this pandemic we're going through, they are going to collect the same amount of property taxes unlike income or sales taxes.”
That insulates school systems from the effects of economic downturns at the expense of property owners, Kagan said.
If school funding was more dependent on state income and sales taxes, schools would be forced to tighten their budgets in hard times just as other agencies do, Kagan said.
“Public school systems spend a lot of money and a lot of it is wasteful spending,” Kagan said.
There are a “ton” of property tax bills introduced this legislative session, Sarah Curry, a policy analyst with the non-profit Platte Institute told The Center Square.
“That’s kind of the norm every year in Nebraska,” Curry said.
The main reason property taxes are such a hot topic in Nebraska is because they account for such a high percentage of school revenue, she said.
If the state picked up the entire tab for education, it would cost about $1 billion, Curry stated.
The Nebraska Association of School Boards and the Nebraska State Education Association declined to comment specifically on Brewer’s proposed legislation.