Governor lauds lawmakers for tax relief bills

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – After hammering Nebraska lawmakers for weeks for not approving enough property tax relief this session, Gov. Dave Heineman reversed course Wednesday and congratulated them for $412 million in total tax relief they’ve approved for the next five years.

SIGNED, SEALED: Gov. Dave Heineman signed several tax relief bills Wednesday, hailing lawmakers for approving $412 million in tax relief over the next five years.

Heineman signed several tax bills during a press conference in which he surrounded himself with 11 Republican lawmakers, many of whom are up for election this fall, several for higher offices. Asked why he didn’t invite any Democrats, Heineman said he’d “get in trouble” if he pulled too many senators off the floor of the Legislature so he just “called a few I thought were with us the whole time.”

To which one of his main adversaries, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, D-Omaha, responded on Twitter saying, “Partisanship and taking credit for a tax package largely constructed by the Tax Modernization Committee: That’s Governor Heineman.”

Heineman has been pushing lawmakers to lower taxes since the beginning of the session, when he called for $370 million to $500 million in tax relief, in part by dipping into the state’s rainy day fund. Despite his repeated public pressure on lawmakers to do more on property tax relief as recently as Saturday, Heineman said Wednesday he was pleasantly surprised about six weeks ago when he started adding up all the tax relief lawmakers had approved.

He said he was “very careful” about not calling attention to the tax bills “because I didn’t want to jinx it.” He said he focused on property tax relief to make sure the other bills made it to his desk.

“I am pleased that Nebraska taxpayers will be receiving more than $412 million in tax relief, which is responsible, meaningful and significant tax relief,” he said.

Some senators have criticized the governor for saying they haven’t approved enough property tax relief when he didn’t include any in his budget proposal. Heineman said he didn’t introduce such a bill because there were already several bills with property tax reductions. Tax issues are the most difficult to find resolution on, he said, and he thought it better to let the bills percolate in committees.

“I wish it were more,” he said of the bill increasing the property tax credit program by $25 million.

Asked what he thought of lawmakers’ votes Tuesday to override $61 million of his $65 million in line-item vetoes, Heineman said, “We had a respectful disagreement,” but adding one more dig when he said lawmakers wanted to increase spending more than he did.

The tax relief bills signed will:

• Index individual income tax brackets for inflation and exempt portions of social security income and veteran retirement funds from taxation.

• Eliminate the sales tax on the sale, lease, rental or storage of repair or replacement parts for ag machinery and equipment used in commercial ag.

• Increase the property tax credit program by $25 million annually, in addition to the current $115 million program.

• Expand the homestead exemption program.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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