Property Tax Proposal May Lack Votes, Halloran No-Shows Censure Hearing

Property Tax Relief Package May Lack Votes

LB 388, the Revenue committee’s highly anticipated property tax relief package, was mired in doubt and skepticism from left and right when it hit the floor for debate last week. The Governor’s office — who primarily authored the proposal — estimates that the package will drive down Nebraskans’ property tax bills by 30% by sending more state dollars to K-12 education, thereby allowing localities to reduce the amount of tax they levy for school districts. Concern about the bill’s mechanism of shifting the property tax burden onto an increased sales tax rate, along with new or higher taxes on some services and consumable items, continues to unite some of the most liberal and conservative senators and lobby groups in opposition to the proposal.

To end debate on LB 388 Wednesday, an exasperated-sounding Revenue Chair Linehan asked the Speaker for a pause to work on the bill over the long Easter holiday weekend, citing drafting errors in the bill’s caps on spending for cities and counties. The implication is that she and proponents may need time to whip, or firm up, the 33 votes needed for cloture. Some also said it might make more sense for legislators to vote for LB 388 once they’ve seen a companion proposal and key component of the plan that’s forthcoming from the Education Committee, which would reportedly “front load” the existing LB 1107 property tax credit as a reduction in property taxpayers’ statements, rather than requiring them to claim it on their income taxes. But the rushed, haphazard rollout of these proposals has many questioning whether such massive changes to Nebraska’s tax and education funding policies can — or should — be rammed through under the wire before session ends.

Censure Resolution Heard, Halloran is a No-Show

The week ended with a brief but impactful public hearing on LR 335, Sens. Machaela Cavanaugh and Julie Slama’s resolution calling for a censure of Sen. Steve Halloran for his recent conduct on the legislative floor. The Executive Board opted only to allow for invited testimony, and initially those invited were Senator Halloran and the three Senators targeted by his remarks: both Sens. Cavanaugh and Sen. Dungan. It ended up that only Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh testified, and I heard that she asked the other two not to testify. They did, however, sit behind her in a show of support, along with several other fellow senators. Sen. Halloran chose not to attend the hearing, which he claims was not legitimately held; and instead sent an e-mail to the legislature with a copy of his testimony and documentation intended to support his arguments about why the hearing was in violation of legislative rules. This follows nearly 2 weeks of protesters appearing at the Capitol demanding Halloran be held accountable — many of them at times standing outside his office.

Some observers noted the glaring lack of women’s representation on the Executive Board. Sen. Slama is the only female legislator on the committee, which serves as the legislature’s self-governing entity on matters like HR and ethics violations. Cavanaugh has requested the committee take swift action to vote the resolution to the floor so that she, her family, and others who have been impacted by Halloran’s actions can have closure. It remains to be seen whether the committee has the votes to do so. If the resolution is advanced, it’s important to note that a vote to censure amounts to sending a harsh statement of condemnation from the legislature, saying that they do not condone the actions of its subject — but is not the same as censorship, and would not result in any tangible punitive repercussions like expulsion. Nonetheless, supporters say it’s important to draw this line in the sand and make a statement about what is and is not acceptable behavior for legislators. Halloran is termed out at the end of this year. Read more about the hearing from the Nebraska Examiner here.

Other News

  • The legislature officially confirmed Steve Corsi as the head of DHHS. Corsi has drawn fire for his inflammatory social media presence and ethically questionable decisions in past leadership positions.
  • A package of tax credits wrapped into Sen. Bostar’s Caregiver Tax Credit bill (LB 937) got caught up in a fight over the controversial inclusion of a tax credit for “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”, originally LB 606, by Sen. Albrecht. However, Sen. John Cavanaugh was able to add in his sales tax exemption for diapers amid this debate (originally LB 58).

What Remains

To end the week, Speaker Arch made an announcement outlining expectations for the remaining weeks. He said there are 14 priority bills on General File the body will be scrambling to get through, and bills must make it through General File by Friday, Day 56, in order to have a shot at passage this year. That’s in addition to LB 388 and the companion Education proposal we expect to be taken up this week, both of which will certainly merit extended debate.

With this much work remaining, Arch has asked senators to be judicious in prioritizing which measures they want to spend time opposing and to not burn precious remaining debate time slow-walking bills that are of less consequence. He said he will be asking to see vote cards for bills that have significant opposition, and if a bill that is clearly facing a filibuster doesn’t have the votes, he will talk to the introducer about holding the bill and bringing it back next year. In other words, if the introducer of a bill being filibustered can’t demonstrate that they have 33 votes for cloture, Arch is reserving the right to “park it”, e.g. not put it back on the agenda, killing it for the year.

Some quiet implications here: if Linehan and the Governor can’t whip together their votes for property tax bills and they die, we could see a special session; and this could also mean introducers of highly controversial priority bills yet to be debated like LB 575 (Kauth) and LB 1402 (Linehan) may have less of a shot at passage if their votes aren’t solid.

There is also rumor that there may be one or more budget line item vetoes coming down Tuesday, so those motions to override, if taken up, would burn more time as well.

Until Next Week,
Your Capitol Fly on the Wall