LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Local governments that want to get a boost in property tax revenue would have to send postcards to notify all of their taxpayers and hold a standalone public hearing where residents could voice their opinion under a bill backed by Nebraska lawmakers.
Lawmakers gave the measure first-round approval Wednesday with a 36-1 vote. The bill would apply to cities, counties, school districts and community colleges that want to collect more tax revenue than they did in the previous year.
It comes as Nebraska lawmakers attempt to clamp down on rising property taxes, a frequent complaint among residents. Property taxes are levied by local governments and approved in meetings that are often sparsely attended, but many state lawmakers say they hear complaints constantly about local tax bills.
“With information comes power, and if we truly want the people to control their taxpaying destiny, they need to be informed,” said Sen. Ben Hansen, of Blair, who sponsored the notification bill.
Hansen said the proposal would increase communication with taxpayers and force local governments to explain why they need the extra money. Two additional votes are required before the measure goes to Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Opponents argued that the bill is an unfunded mandate that forces local governments to spend additional money on mailings and public hearings. Sen. Megan Hunt, of Omaha, said lawmakers are “meddling and micromanaging” locally elected government officials who are already accountable for their actions.
“What makes us think that we know better than local elected officials?” she said.
Supporters have labeled the bill a “Truth in Taxation” measure similar to other proposals championed by the American Legislative Exchange Counsel and adopted by conservative states, including Utah and Texas.
The Nebraska bill has won support from conservative taxpayer advocacy groups, who said it will help make Nebraska residents aware that their taxes could increase because of higher levy rates or rising home valuations.
“For far too long, Nebraskans have been frustrated with the property tax system that has left them with little say in how their tax dollars are being spent,” said Jessica Shelburn, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Nebraska.