Dave Heineman: Tax Shifterby Kyle Michaelis
As the New Nebraska Network has (constantly) reported over the last month, Heineman and the World-Herald have combined rhetoric and joined forces in an attempt to convince voters that their own checkbooks are lying to them and that - despite all evidence to the contrary - the tax they should really want to see cut is the state's income tax. And, not only that, but they should also support shifting the tax burden onto the backs of working-class families to benefit the state's wealthiest citizens.
Why? Because Heineman and the World-Herald said so. Duh!
To build a case for such an argument, the most consistent weapon in their arsenal has been the notion that the state's attempts to relieve property taxes collected at the local level amount only to "tax shifts," not actual tax cuts. Needless to say, I've found this particular line of attack an incredibly illogical one reliant on an unnatural understanding of tax policy that completely disregards the inescapable fluidity and interconnectedness between state and local governments.
Still, even giving Heineman and the World-Herald's charges the intellectual weight they do not deserve, it is very telling that - when pressed - even Heineman caves in to the public's demands for property tax relief. In fact, as numerous proposals for credits, circuit breakers, and exemptions intended to lighten the property tax burden on homeowners are being debated by the Legislature's Revenue Committee, Heineman is cynically using his budget's promise of a "tax shift" as one of its primary selling points.
In an article last week comparing Heineman's LB 331 (targeting income and estate taxes) with the most talked about alternative - Sen. Tom White's LB 453 (providing homeowners a $500 reimbursement from their property taxes), the World-Herald reported:
Heineman...says his proposed budget includes property tax relief because it would boost state aid to schools and local government to an average of $1.2 billion per year, a record.Ironic, huh? To salvage his larger tax agenda, Heineman is actually relying on the idea that tax shifting works. He knows that both Senators and voters remain persistent in their calls for property tax relief, so he's counting on the very same strategy he'd denounced for months to suffice and to appease their demands - mainly, throwing money at local governments and expecting that to do the trick.
One minute, tax shifts are a bad idea. The next, they're the backbone of the governor's make-shift plan for property tax relief. Amazing, wouldn't you say?
Of course, the truth behind a budget is always a question of the priorities it reflects. No matter Heineman's disingenuous and contradictory arguments, his plan to boost funding to public education is the least direct and most precarious form of property tax relief. It can hardly even be taken seriously as such - offering far less appreciable difference on this front than any of the actual property tax credits and exemptions that are also being debated.
Property taxes are not Heineman's priority. Accoding to prior statements, they are hardly even his concern. That Heineman would even make argument to the contrary reeks of desperation. It speaks to a man starting to realize just how little common ground exists between his agenda and that of most Nebraskans.