On Thursday, Voices for Children in Nebraska board member Eric Nelson testified before the Tax Modernization Committee. Here is his written testimony:
Thank you Senator Hadley and Members of the Committee. My name is Eric Nelson and I am here today as a board member for Voices for Children in Nebraska. At Voices for Children, our main concern is the quality of life that we as a state provide for children today and in the future. In general, Nebraska is good state to be a kid. In fact, the National Kids Count Data Center ranks Nebraska the 8th best state in the nation overall to be a kid.
However, not all our kids share in the good life. Over the past few years, children in the child welfare system have suffered from an ill-planned attempt to save money in caring for vulnerable children. Our child poverty rate has continually increased over the past decade to almost one in five Nebraska kids, and the numbers are even more troubling for children of color. Nearly two out of three third graders – 64 percent – aren’t reading at grade-level – which is often identified as an early indicator of ongoing academic problems.
As someone who works in our public education system, I see the increasing needs of our children every day and the missed opportunities when we fail to adequately invest in our state’s most important natural resource – our kids. We can, and should, do better a better job of ensuring that all our state’s kids have the best possible opportunity to succeed. Over the past few years, policies have already been put in place that compromise our ability to invest in children. The passage of LB 84 in 2011 allocated some of the revenue previously available for education and other children’s services to fund roads and LB 970 in 2012 cut income taxes and reduced our overall state revenue. To that end, I urge the committee not to make further cuts to income taxes that would impede our ability to make collective investments in kids.
Rather than focusing on income tax, we would urge the committee to look at decreasing the cost of property taxes, especially for lower and middle income renters and homeowners. We also urge the committee to ensure that any cuts to property taxes do not compromise our ability to invest in education. Increasing state aid to schools can help school districts rely less on property taxes while ensuring a quality education is available to all of Nebraska’s kids.
We hope the committee will maintain the current income tax structure and focus on reducing property taxes in ways that don’t decrease our commitment to public education. We believe that these are the best options to help ensure that we continue working toward becoming a state where all of our kids have access to “the good life.”
Thank you for your time and I am happy to take any questions.