Proposed small change could have big long-term results

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

We’ve long been a fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book, “The Tipping Point,” which contends that minor changes can have big results.

Perhaps some Nebraska lawmakers have read the book as well.

Or, maybe the proposal, LB103, isn’t such a minor change after all.

At budget time each year, many elected officials like to brag that they didn’t raise the levy, but leave out the fact they actually did raise taxes, by spending additional revenue resulting from higher property valuations.

Monday, lawmakers advanced, on a 35-1 vote, Omaha Sen. Lou Ann Linehan’s bill that would automatically lower property tax levies to adjust for any increase in valuations, so that local governments would collect the same total amount of money as the previous year.

If more money were needed, the local government would have to hold a public hearing to adjust the levy back toward its previous level.

Yes, local governments have to deal with inflation, as we all do, and the law would likely result in a more cumbersome budgeting process, with an extra or more lengthy and contentious public hearing as the final spending plan is created.

But that can be a good thing. If a superintendent, city manager or commissioner knows each spending increase is going to have to be justified at a public hearing, and not simply funded through automatically increasing property tax revenues, he or she might do to find efficiencies or cuts to avoid such confrontations.

Yes, we already have budget hearings, but “raising the levy” definitely has different “optics” than simply approving a budget with larger numbers on the expense side.

Passing LB103 might seem like a small procedural change, but it’s a detail that could offer one of the long-term solutions to Nebraska’s property tax problems.

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