|Christensen forging ahead with occupation tax fix|
He said Republican Basin must remain proactive and work together better.
By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
More than 60 people from the area including irrigators and business owners came to Imperial Monday to hear an update on water issues from 44th District Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial.
The meeting was sponsored by Lamar Fertilizer in an effort to bring people up to date on water issues in Lincoln.
One of Christensen’s primary goals this session focuses on getting the closed class language in the occupation tax fixed.
The occupation tax created by LB 701 in 2007 allowed natural resources districts to levy a per-acre fee on irrigated ground to fund compliance issues.
It also included a 10-cent property tax levy that has already been declared unconstitutional.
The occupation tax is in the midst of a constitutional challenge as well.
Christensen introduced LB 862 in an effort to open the closed class language that threatens the occupation tax.
While he’s gotten strong support in Natural Resource Committee for the bill, it remains stuck in committee due to wording.
Christensen said two versions of wording to open the class have already been turned down by the Department of Natural Resources.
“They’re not trying to work with us on this,” the senator noted.
Despite that, he said he will continue to work on language this week that will be acceptable to move the bill out of committee and on the floor.
The occupation tax is the lone funding mechanism natural resource districts have that could help fund compliance activities.
By fixing the closed class language in the LB 701, the occupation tax would only have to survive a constitutional challenge of whether the occupation tax is a local tax for a state purpose—compact compliance with Kansas.
Two Carlson Bills
Christensen said two bills introduced by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege won’t advance out of his committee at Carlson’s request.
The two bills focused on groundwater declines and equal allocations, even if that meant zero allocations in some cases.
Christensen said Carlson told the committee the issues still need to be explored. Carlson will likely ask for interim studies on the two proposals.
Another of Carlson’s bill’s LB 1057, seeks to appoint on irrigation task force for the Republican Basin that would be appointed by the governor.
Christensen said this bill will likely make it to the floor for debate this year.
Augmentation Okay; Aquifer
Sen. Christensen said the basin and the state still needs to be looking for long-term solutions to water problems, not just in the Republican Basin but the Platte, Loup and Niobrara as well.
He recognized that Republican NRD plans to develop some type of augmentation plan to get water into Harlan Dam is a worthwhile project and will help keep the state in compliance with Kansas.
What continues to worry Christensen is that despite augmentation plans, the Upper and Middle Republican NRDs could still be the target of legislative regulation.
As a result, he suggested that a better long-term plan would an aquifer recharge plan that would benefit the whole state.
Right now, Nebraska is an exporter of it’s water resources. Christensen suggested capturing that water before it goes into the Missouri River to eventually become salt water.
He suggested building pipelines from eastern Nebraska collection sites back to western Nebraska to feed both the Platte and Republican Basins.
This would create sufficient water supplies to keep the state in compliance with several compacts and endangered species pacts and protect allocations and recharge the acquifer.
This will bring the long-term sustainability that everyone has been after, he said.
He said the Platte faces a shutdown of more than 600,000 irrigated acres from Lake McConaughy to Grand Island. Because of that economic impact, he believes the Platte will be an ally in such a plan.
Several years ago he obtained a cost estimate to build three six-foot pipelines back to western Nebraska. The cost was $3.2 billion. By dividing that cost amongst the irrigated acres in the basins, that would mean $16 per acre for a 40 year period.
Each of the three pipelines would be capable of moving 50,000 acre-feet of water over an eight-month period.
Perhaps, all three wouldn’t be needed, reducing the cost more, Christensen said.
He encouraged the NRDs and those in attendance to give this a serious look because he believes it provides a long-term solution that’s good for the state. In addition, it removes the chance of legislation or regulatory action that could be devastating not only to the Republican Basin but the state as a whole.
Will Ask for Interim Study
Christensen said he plans to ask for an interim study on the issue between sessions as a way to move the issue forward.
He said the thinking needs to be long-term and “out-of-the-box” to address water issues in the state.