Lawmaker: 'property taxes are killing us in the ag industry'

Nebraska State Sen. Curt Friesen farms in Hamilton County (NTV News)

A tax showdown looms at the state capitol, where farmers say something must be done.

“Property taxes are killing us in the ag industry,” Sen. Curt Friesen said.

He worries high property taxes could put some farmers out of business.

He said, “You're operating below the cost of production right now and to have taxes the way they're levied right now, it's going to break some guys.”

He's been a corn grower all his life, and says the state needs to fundamentally change how priorities are paid for.

He said, “There's something wrong with how we fund K-12 education and that's my goal is to somehow come up with a process where we continue to fund education at appropriate levels, yet take pressure off property taxes.”

That’s the case in York Public Schools. Superintendent Mike Lucas said, “You have a lot of districts like York, we're at 74% of our funding comes from local property taxes.”

Lucas says his district received $3.7 million in state aid in 2009. He said it’s now declined to about $150,000, which is a 99 percent drop.

“It's about $111 per student,” he said, of the state funding York now receives.

York schools are part of a coalition along with farm groups, considering ideas like expanding the sales tax, or scaling back business incentives.

Sen. Friesen said, “Look at the Nebraska Advantage Act. We give a lot of revenue away in incentive programs. Are they working the way they should work?”

The State Chamber of Commerce stands with the governor, saying they don't want to simply shift taxes.

Their philosophy is one Senator Friesen largely agrees with.

“Make Nebraska known as a low tax business friendly state,” he said.

And while they may disagree on how to achieve tax relief, Friesen said he’s hopeful it can be achieved.

“Farmers are eternal optimists but I think with the election and everything else and urban residential areas feeling the pinch of property taxes and how we fund K-12, I think this might be the year we get something done,” he said.

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