- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska will steer an extra $20 million to farm and ranch landowners next year to offset their property taxes under a bill Gov. Pete Ricketts signed Tuesday.

The measure is one of the governor’s top priorities but was watered down from his original proposal to impose spending controls on local governments and community colleges. On Monday, the governor signed another property tax bill that could make it easier for some local school districts to lower their levy rates.

“These bills are not everything we wanted when we started this process, but that’s part of the give and take of the legislative process,” Ricketts said at a press conference, flanked by the two sponsors of the bills and agricultural lobbyists.

The bills were introduced by Sens. Mike Gloor of Grand Island and Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, both of whom are leaving office in January because of term limits.

Gloor’s bill provides state money to boost Nebraska’s property tax credit fund to $224 million a year, from the current $204 million. Tax credits for residential and commercial property owners would remain unchanged, while the credits for farm and ranch land owners would rise by $20 million.

“Hopefully we can get to the point where someday we’re actually talking about decreasing property taxes,” Gloor said.

Sullivan said her bill, which focused on school districts, will help keep schools accountable by allowing them to receive state aid even if they lower their levy rates. Sullivan has said some districts use the threat of losing aid as an excuse to keep the rates high. Her bill would also tighten budget restrictions on bonding for projects such as mold abatement and environmental hazards.

“I’m very glad we crossed the finish line,” Sullivan said. “This sends a message that we’re going to continue to make some structural changes in our funding formula.”

Ricketts declined to say whether he would keep pushing next year for tax measures that benefit agriculture, noting that Gloor and Sullivan will be replaced by different committee leaders with different agendas.

Sullivan said next year’s legislative leaders will have to strike a balance among lobbying groups with competing agendas.

Gloor said cooperation with the governor’s office was key to passing the bills.

“Having both the Legislature and the executive branch pointed in the same direction is a pretty significant force,” he said.

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The bills are LB958 and LB959

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