The Legislature cleared its first filibuster last week after spending eight hours debating LB77, Senator Brewer’s priority bill to enact Constitutional Carry. I was happy to be one of 36 Senators who voted to end the filibuster and move the bill to the second round of debate. It takes 33 votes to cease debate and force a vote. Last year, the bill only garnered 31 votes to end the filibuster.
Last week was also the bill hearing for Senator Erdman’s LB396, related to the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement project or N-CORPE. LB396 would require a natural resources district (NRD) to sell the land needed for an augmentation project after the augmentation project is complete while allowing them to keep the rights to the groundwater beneath the land.
Maintaining the ability of farmers to irrigate land is important, not only for the farmers but also for our agricultural industries. And, it is also critical that our school districts and other property tax beneficiaries are properly funded and have a broad base.
I support the augmentation project associated with N-CORPE. However, I think that once the project was completed, the excess land should have been sold and placed back on the tax rolls (even at the lower land use value). Enough of the land could have been retained where the wells were located and the deed should have included a restriction on claiming any rights to the water. If there are constitutional concerns with that approach, then transferring the land using a 99-year lease could have ensured N-CORPE had the necessary water rights.
I also believe that since this project benefits irrigators in several counties, Lincoln County and the school districts affected by the lost tax revenue should have received an “in lieu of tax payment” equal to the “predevelopment” irrigated land use as opposed to the dryland valuation. All the other counties and school districts that are part of N-CORPE did not lose any tax base. This seems wholly unfair to Lincoln County taxpayers.
Additionally, I have questioned why N-CORPE hired three full-time employees with no apparent agricultural production experience to manage the project when a professional farm management firm could have done a better job at a lower cost.
My final concern deals with the future use of the nearly 19,000 acres of land. It was mentioned that they may consider a solar or wind energy project. I am not opposed to such a project provided the project is managed by a third party. The NRD’s were established to manage water quality and water quantity. “Mission creep” is an ongoing problem that occurs in far too many governmental entities. Stay in your lane, and things work better.
I remain a huge fan of NRDs and believe that the N-CORPE project has fulfilled an important water issue that can help ensure Nebraska complies with the Republican River Compact. If that remains the focus going forward, I will continue to be a supporter. And I will also be an advocate for ideas that Lincoln County and the school districts are affected by the lost tax revenue whole.
Ahead this week is Senator Linehan’s priority bill, LB753. LB753 would provide a 100% non-refundable income tax credit for donations made to private schools. This bill is a priority of the Governor but is also hotly contested. My inbox has been overflowing on both sides of this issue.
I remain supportive of both public and private schools. We are fortunate in our part of the state to be blessed with quality public schools but this is not necessarily the case in the metro areas. I am currently a co-sponsor of the legislation based on the bill language from last year. However, as I have reviewed the bill more closely this year, I have several reservations regarding the size of the tax credit, the maximum amount that this credit could grow to, and how the funds will be utilized.
I have been working with some other conservative Senators to make modifications to the bill to make it more balanced. Specifically, I would like to see the tax credit apply to 75% of the amount contributed as opposed to the proposed 100%. Skin in the game should be an element of this program. Additionally, the bill allows for this credit to grow as high as $100 million per year. This is a huge amount of money to be targeted to a new program. Finally, I want to ensure contributions go exclusively to scholarships for low- to moderate-income children instead of being used to build foundation reserves.
The budget has provided for strong funding for public schools and passage of this bill will not reduce public school funding. As a result, I will support the bill if we can get the amendments were seeking.
Your input is important to me. I would encourage everyone to join the weekly call with the North Platte Chamber, or contact me directly by telephone or email.