NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (AP) - Some western Nebraska landowners have unloaded on the Legislature's Tax Modernization Committee at its first two hearings around the state, complaining about their burden of high property taxes and rising valuations.
Gov. Dave Heineman last year proposed to eliminate or reduce the state's income tax and abolish millions of dollars' worth of state sales tax exemptions. The plan drew howls from farm groups, manufacturers and others that stood to lose sales tax breaks.
The governor later withdrew the proposals in favor of the committee's study, which is focusing on property, income and sales taxes.
At hearings on Sept. 23 in Scottsbluff and Sept. 24 in North Platte, farmers and ranchers agreed: The tax burden is disproportionately high, as are valuation increases.
Custer County rancher Jim Jones said on Sept. 24 the valuation on his land rose by more than $310,000 in 2012.
"But that land is worth no more to me than it was before," Jones said. "Real estate tax needs to be put on productivity."
And Dale Gronewold, of Dawson County, said the tax burden must be removed from agricultural land so small farms can survive.
"It's very inequitable the way the system has worked. I don't know what the answer is, but I know it can't be sustained," he said.
Chadron resident Jim O'Rourke criticized the state's school funding scheme at the Scottsbluff hearing.
"If you look at our school budget, 50 percent of it is paid by 10 percent of the population, which are farmers or ranchers," O'Rourke said.
Steve Erdman, of Morrill County, said the committee ought to make genuine cuts to the state's budget, not just pass along costs to counties that, in turn, raise taxes on local landowners.
The committee has scheduled other hearings: Oct. 17 on the South Campus of Metropolitan Community College in Omaha; and Oct. 18 at the Capitol in Lincoln.