Changes proposed for Neb. tax-modernization panel

Grant Schulte, Associated Press
February 21, 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- A 12-member panel would travel Nebraska for input on ways to improve the state tax code and its members might even stage a "tax summit" at the State Fair, under a new plan taking shape in the Legislature.

The proposal was unveiled Thursday, one day after a legislative panel killed two major tax bills that were introduced on behalf of Gov. Dave Heineman. Heineman and the bill's sponsors agreed over the weekend to shelve both measures, following a wave of opposition from farm groups and others who could have lost billions of dollars in sales-tax exemptions.

The new proposal is a joint venture between the Legislature's Revenue Committee, which focuses on tax policy, and the Executive Board, which is reviewing a bill to create a "tax modernization committee."

The proposal would require at least five public hearings throughout Nebraska, online questionnaires for the public, and a state tax summit. Committee members would also review previous tax-policy studies and issue a report to lawmakers and the governor by Dec. 15. After that, the working group would meet annually to decide if new tax-code changes are needed.

The committee would include all members of the Revenue Committee, as well as the chairs of five other committees and state tax officials. Sen. Galen Hadley, the Revenue Committee chairman, would lead the new tax panel. Its members would focus on ways to make the tax code fairer, simpler, more stable and more competitive.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Paul Schumacher, of Columbus. Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha has chosen the measure as his "priority bill" for the session, a designation that gives it precedent over other measures.

McCoy said the Revenue Committee has drafted changes to the original bill, which will the go to the Executive Board for approval. He said the bill, which would take effect as soon as the governor signs it, would allow the committee to start its review before the legislative session ends.

"This is important enough that we don't need to wait until after June 5, when we adjourn, to get started," McCoy said. "We can get started right away. This legislation will likely be on the floor very soon. Our hope is to get it to the governor as quickly as possible."

McCoy said he hoped to hold the tax summit at the Nebraska State Fair in August.

"You have hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans who are there in Grand Island for the fair," McCoy said. "What better way to get a lot of Nebraskans to weigh in? It may not happen that way, but that's my personal view of what I'd like to see happen."

McCoy said he also planned to keep the tax issue "on the front burner" of the Legislature.

"We may agree to disagree on how we go about it, or what conclusions we arrive at," McCoy said. "But I'm not sure that we've ever had a time when everything really aligns. We have a Legislature that feels a sense of urgency to act. We have an overwhelming number of Nebraskans who are asking us to act. And you have a governor who's willing to make this a focal point. I think that's a pretty rare circumstance."

___

The bill is LB613