Janssen Votes to Advance Sales Tax Repeal

April
5

Janssen Votes to Advance Sales Tax Repeal

Lincoln

By GRANT SCHULTE, Associated Press

Updated 3:05 pm, Friday, April 5, 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A Nebraska lawmaker known as a master of parliamentary rules attempted to force a vote Friday on his proposal to repeal a new sales tax law for cities, filing a rare motion to pull his stalled bill out of committee.

The move by Sen. Ernie Chambers was also unusual because it aligned the veteran state lawmaker, known to champion liberal causes, with several conservative colleagues.

The move triggered a spirited debate, with some lawmakers expressing concern that pulling the bill would undermine the committee system. Chambers failed to bring lawmakers to a vote on Friday, but vowed to try again.

Chambers, of Omaha, wants to repeal a state law that allows Nebraska cities to increase their local sales taxes by as much as ½-cent per dollar, with voter approval. Lawmakers passed it last year, narrowly overriding Republican Gov. Dave Heineman's veto. Chambers wasn't in the Legislature at the time, having sat out for four years because of term limits, but he returned this year after being elected again.

"It's a mistake to give away one-half percent of the taxing authority that the state may have to rely on," Chambers said. "... There is no crisis that justifies that being done."

Chambers has argued that the new law disproportionately affects the poor, who pay a greater share of their income in sales taxes. He said Friday that he also opposed wording that allows the city of Lincoln to use some of revenue for private development projects.

"That is something I definitely would have caught had I been in the Legislature," Chambers said. "Even if I could have defeated the bill, I would say that none of that tax money should go for a private purpose. But that is in the existing law."

The new law has widespread support among groups that represent Nebraska cities. And voters in the cities of Sidney and Alma and the village of Waterloo already have approved sales tax increases, while Nebraska City and Bellevue voters rejected them.

The bill is stuck in the Revenue Committee as lawmakers prepare for a broader study of the state's tax system. The committee chairman, Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, said the sales tax law was vigorously debated over the course of two years. Hadley also warned that it's been in effect for less than a year.

Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln said committees serve an important purpose in part because of Nebraska's one-house Legislature, which has no second house to serve as a check. Campbell said committees encourage cooperation and help lawmakers fine-tune legislation.

"I believe most fervently that the work of the Legislature is not a win-loss game," said Campbell, who heads the Health and Human Services Committee. "We aren't here to 'win' on a bill ... we're here to do the work of the people of Nebraska."

Several conservative lawmakers who opposed the law said they supported Chambers' motion. Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha said he respected the committee process, but he added that the rule allowing lawmakers to pull bills from committee existed for a reason.

Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont said he believed that the repeal bill merited the "extraordinary" step of pulling it from committee. Janssen and McCoy both serve on the Revenue Committee and wanted to send the bill to the floor, but the measure deadlocked on 4-3 vote earlier this year, with one senator abstaining. A majority of at least five is needed to move bills out of committee.

"This is a regressive tax," Janssen said. "Any time you give taxing authority away like this, it's going to be utilized."

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The bill is LB266

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