The 2023 Nebraska Legislative session will be remembered as the most contentious in state history and for the public expressions of support and strong opposition to, and the passage of, a controversial bill that banned abortions after 12 weeks and restricted gender-affirming care for trans youth.
Senators battled over, and ultimately passed, a measure that would give tax credits for private and parochial school scholarships — which is already being contested by an initiative driven by public school advocates — and increased funding for the construction of the proposed Perkins County Canal, ignoring the opinion of its researchers on the lack of benefits of the projects.
The Legislature also approved income tax cuts that would substantially benefit higher-income Nebraskans but would have minimal impact for middle- and lower-income taxpayers for at least three years, along with corporate tax reductions that, taken together, could squeeze future tax revenues and the state’s cash reserve fund.
But, even while constrained by a session-long filibuster triggered by those opposing transgender bills, the Legislature managed to approve a number of bills that would benefit all Nebraskans and some that will be of great benefit to Lincoln.
The latter includes approval of spending $180 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to assist Lincoln in securing a second water source, the most important public works project for the city for the next decade or more. The $1.2 billion project would pump water from the Missouri River to Lincoln and could be utilized by other area communities.
The Legislature also approved a “turnback tax” provision that will provide funding for a proposed convention center in downtown Lincoln and created language on affordable housing projects for land adjacent to Qualified Census Tracts that will help the city better use its affordable housing funding.
Statewide, the passage of Gov. Jim Pillen’s educational funding plan, which would guarantee that every school district receives state aid, was a long-needed step forward that will boost state aid to public schools to near the national average and, thereby, provide property tax relief as districts reduce their levies after receiving that aid.
Property tax relief also will come from a measure that will see the state provide funding to community colleges rather than the funds coming from local property taxes.
Other positive tax measures included full tax exemption for Social Security benefits starting next year and expanded tax credits for child care, the latter a first step in addressing workforce issues in a state where most families have two working parents.
The final major piece of legislation, approved on the last day of the session, was also a step forward, this one aimed at solving the state’s pressing corrections crisis.
The criminal justice reform package will use multiple programs, such as problem-solving courts and speeding up parole for many prisoners to reduce “jamming out” to begin to reduce the population in the country’s most overcrowded prison system. Further reforms, however, are needed to prevent the $400 million new prison that will replace the aging Nebraska State Penitentiary from being full on the day it opens.
With the culture war battles largely off the table next session, the Legislature should be able to address those reforms and the economic and workforce development issues that are of true importance to the state’s future.
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Published: 2023-06-12 17:37:56