NEBRASKA CITY – Participants at Tuesday’s Center for Rural Affairs tax forum in Nebraska City hinted at a looming crises for farm balance sheets and school funding, while urging state lawmakers to find lasting solutions.
Nebraska City School Superintendent Dr. Jeff Edwards said the school district’s overall budget has risen about 1 percent per year over the last eight years, but salary and benefits have risen up to 4 percent.
He said the district is running out of places to stifle spending.
Edwards: “What get squeezed next? Because you can only shut lights off so often. The temperature in your room can only be so high or so low … you’re talking people and programs and then you’re talking about losing opportunities for kids.”
Area farmer Gene Hobbie said property taxes have become the number one farm expense and said the trend toward even higher property taxes could put producers into impossible financial positions.
Dr. Edwards said he is worried that escalating property taxes will one day result in large-scale tax defaults.
Former teacher and economist Al Guenther said Nebraska should treat the causes of the property tax dilemma rather than getting caught up in treating the effects.
He suggested a greater reliance on income tax for school funding and said the business incentive program known as Nebraska Advantage has outlived its usefulness.
He said Nebraska Advantage has the state giving away over $100 million a year to the likes of Monsanto, Archer Daniels, TD Ameritrade and Burlington Northern.
Guenther: “Those are lost revenues that have to be made up by somebody. Local government must balance its budget and it has to have revenue. Dr. Edwards would say we don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem.”
Hobbie said the state conceived a property tax lids and state aid and is now talking about mechanisms to lower farmland values. He said these measures are not a lasting solution for school funding.
Hobbie: “We need to be in the mindset that maybe the education of our children is not dependent upon the property owners of the district. It’s the responsibility of everyone in the district.”
Dr. Edwards said he sees a positive in the tax debate, as schools and the Nebraska Farm Bureau have come together recently to seek solutions.
Guenther said local government has done its job in recent years for government solvency.