In his recent State of the State speech, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman unveiled his three-pronged tax reduction proposal: income tax rate reductions and broadening of income tax brackets, a reduction in the corporate income tax rate, and complete elimination of the inheritance tax. He said that “Our highest priority should be tax relief for Nebraska’s hard-working, middle class taxpayer.”
But the Governor misses an opportunity to help those who feel the brunt of the state’s current tax structure the most and makes it harder for local governments to provide necessary – and often state-mandated – services.
Nebraska’s tax structure is already regressive and asks more of lower income families than better off families. In fact, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) found that the poorest 20 percent of Nebraskans pay an average of 11.1 percent of their income in state and local taxes compared to just 6.1 percent, on average, that the top one percent of Nebraskans – those with incomes averaging over $1.4 million – pay. This discrepancy is largely due to the state’s high reliance on property taxes (which are regressive) relative to personal income taxes (which are progressive). The Governor’s proposal does nothing to reduce property taxes, does little to assist the lowest income Nebraskans, and would actually make this disparity worse.
The governor did no favors for local governments either. The state’s inheritance tax generates about $40 million in revenue annually that goes to the state’s 93 counties. The governor’s proposal eliminates this revenue source entirely and doesn’t offer any replacement funds. To make matters worse, his last budget already completely eliminated state aid to local governments. Concern is spreading in county seats across the state, and in Omaha, the Douglas County Board has actually passed a resolution opposing the governor’s plan to kill the inheritance tax because it will “force” them to raise property taxes.