- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska farm and ranchland owners could qualify for a larger tax credit to offset their property taxes under a bill slated for debate in the Legislature next week.

After weeks of tinkering, members of the Revenue Committee voted 7-0 on Thursday to advance the bill championed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Even so, some committee members voiced reservations and the committee’s chairman made clear that he expects opposition from some lawmakers. Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said the measure, which has already changed dramatically from what Ricketts initially proposed, could shift again when lawmakers debate it.

“We’ve done as much as we can at this point in time,” said Gloor, the committee chairman.

Farm and ranch landowners would receive a larger credit to offset some of their local property taxes if the measure passes, while the amount available for commercial and residential property owners would stay the same. The legislation would also impose new budget restrictions on community colleges, which rely partially on property taxes.

The shift wouldn’t take place until 2017, meaning it wouldn’t affect the current budget, but the delay has raised concerns that lawmakers will have to figure out how to pay for it next year. It also would limit the amount of budget growth community colleges can save to use at a later time to 3 percent of a college’s overall spending.

The original package would have tightened spending and levy limits on local governments and restricted the assessed growth in farm- and ranchland property values.

In a statement, Ricketts praised the vote and said he looks forward to working with the full Legislature. Debate is slated to begin Thursday.

“The Revenue Committee has invested significant time and thought in collaborating with my office to assemble a property tax relief package,” Ricketts said, calling the vote “the next key step toward bringing property tax relief to hardworking Nebraska families.”

Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion abstained from the vote, saying he’s concerned that agricultural groups expect to remain “at the front of the line” next year when small businesses and residents ask for income tax reductions.

“I’m terribly conflicted here,” Smith said. “I do want to help agriculture, but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about a broader issue in the state - creating a better business climate for all businesses.”

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The bill is LB958

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