Water, Taxes And A Short Unicameral Session

Nebraska Notebook

Nebraska study groups on water funding and tax changes will issue report by year's end.

Published on: October 4, 2013

Two Nebraska study groups have their work cut out for them in the coming weeks, and each one needs your input. They involve water and taxes. If that doesn't get your attention in Nebraska, nothing will. The adage of "nothing is certain but death and taxes" can be altered in this state to "death, high property taxes and water fights."

The Nebraska Water Funding Task Force and the Legislature's Tax Modernization Committee have to produce reports by year's end, in order that their recommendations can be considered in the 2014 Unicameral. That's a very tall order, not only in garnering a consensus among each group's members on those recommendations, but also moving them through a packed, short 60-day Legislative session.

Four state senators, in a panel at a recent meeting I attended, talked more about the questions facing the water task force in its remaining meetings than about possible answers. It's been estimated Nebraska needs $50 to $60 million a year to pay help address the state's perennial water conflicts. Foremost need is to solve conflicts between surface and groundwater users, especially in river basins where interstate compacts exist. Those dollars, if raised, would go for, among other things, water research, water modeling and a wide variety of water projects, including storage projects, in Nebraska.

How to raise that money is the overriding issue. Will it be a higher sales tax, a targeted portion of the existing sales tax or perhaps bonding authority for the state's natural resources districts?  

How to distribute additional dollars is another major consideration. State Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial, one of the panelists I heard, said separate funds ought to be established for municipal water needs and for agricultural water needs. "That's the best chance for agriculture," he said. "There is less and less agricultural representation in the Unicameral every year."

Six state senators are non-voting members of the more than 30-member water funding task force, and they want to hear from you. They are Sens. Tom Carlson, 402-471-2732, tcarlson@leg.ne.gov; Mark Christensen, 402-471-2805, mchristensen@leg.ne.gov; Al Davis, 402-471-2628, adavis@leg.ne.gov; Rick Kolowski, 402-471-2327, rkolowski@leg.ne.gov; Ken Schilz, 402-471-2616, kschilz@leg.ne.gov; and Dan Watermeier, 402-471-2733, dwatermeier@leg.ne.gov.

You should also let your own state senator know your thoughts on the issue.