Chris Rhoades and Leeanna Ellis

Chris Rhoades and Leeanna Ellis

During a his State of the State address, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts outlined his four key priorities for the Nebraska Legislature — property tax relief, flood relief, veterans tax relief and scholarships for students.

The Legislature is now in the midst of its 60-day session. So what should be a top priority for senators? Managing Editor Leeanna Ellis and Associate Publisher Chris Rhoades give their answers.

Ellis: School funding, property taxes should be a priority

Sometimes it's just easy to go with the obvious. Everyone in this state knows property tax relief is needed. Nebraska ranks in the top 10 in the highest property taxes in the country.

But, really, two items should just be thought of as one. Directly tied to the property tax issue is school funding.

The Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Act (TEEOSA), the state's finance formula for public schools, is broken. The formula dictates that if resources increase — meaning land valuation — state aid to those districts decrease.

For years, the Nebraska Legislature has debated how to effectively deliver property tax relief while still providing school funding. It's time to stop debating and just deliver.

Other states have figured this out without having to overtax property owners. Senators don't need to re-invent the wheel here. Use those states' procedures as a guideline for Nebraska.

Take Iowa, for example. Iowa's school funding breaks down like this: a third of it comes from property taxes; about 50 percent is from state funding; and the rest is from a variety of sources, including state and federal taxes.

It should also be noted that Iowa ag land is taxed on a productivity formula rather than valuation. If Nebraska switched to such a formula, would it provide some relief? I'm sure there is land, specifically areas that were flooded, that aren't very productive.

Another notable difference between Nebraska and Iowa — gambling. Iowa allows casinos and sports betting. In 2018, Iowa Gaming Association members paid $405.3 million in city, county and state gaming taxes, according to the association. Because public education is a significant portion of the general funding each year, a large portion of the gaming funds are used for that purpose.

Huh. Maybe there are three major issues that should be contemplated.

Rhoades: It’s time to keep our money in Nebraska

Many of the issues facing the state Legislature are very important. That probably goes without saying. While many will disagree with me, the most important or timely issue is that of expanding legalized gambling within our state.

Put aside your personal feelings about gambling. Whether it’s something you enjoy, or you think it’s a societal detriment, this state is leaving millions of dollars sitting on the table. Actually, we’re not leaving it on the table, we’re shipping it just a short distance across the river in to Iowa. Why?

Gambling, whether it’s on sports or otherwise, is becoming mainstream. And, as it becomes more integrated in to our daily lives, this state should really benefit from it. At this point, I’m not sure there’s a strong argument against allowing gambling within our borders.

Opponents will say it makes areas unsafe. Well, go down to the casino area of Council Bluffs and tell me how unsafe you feel. Opponents will say it’s a detriment to the family. That’s a completely valid concern. However, so are so many other things in this world. And, if that detriment can be done just a mile over the river, online or through a local bookie, you’re not making the situation any worse by allowing it legally. I could actually make the argument that by legalizing gambling, we could allocate more funds for addiction awareness campaigns and programs to help those who struggle with it.

All one needs to do is cross the river and look around at some of the wonderful facilities and programs being funded by legalized gambling. Sports facilities, educational programs, the list goes on and on. While it’s all great for that area, it should be extremely frustrating to Nebraska residents to know that a good chunk of those funds are coming directly from our state. Why not put some money in to our coffers and experience some of these great projects and programs over here?

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