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February 20, 2015

Olson Seminars Opened with Talk on Controversial State Taxes

The spring semester's first lecture in the Center for Great Plains Studies' Paul A. Olson Seminars in Great Plains Studies series featured UNL economists Eric Thompson and John Anderson speaking on taxes in the region.

Anderson is a Baird Family Professor of Economics and Thompson is an associate professor of economics and the director of the Bureau of Business Research. They opened the Olson series on Feb. 18 at the Great Plains Art Museum, 1155 Q St.

Taxes continue to be a highly controversial political topic, especially with recent developments in several Plains states.

Kansas has implemented deep tax reductions that produced sharp declines in state revenues and a scramble to impose budget cuts on education and other services.

In North Dakota, taxes related to the oil boom produced a huge budget surplus but also created immense needs for new roads, schools, water treatment facilities, other costly infrastructure and an economy that is sensitive to volatile world oil prices.

Colorado's legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana is generating large revenue allocated to fund education — revenues so large, in fact, that the state may have to refund some of the tax revenue under the state's Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

In Nebraska, newly elected Gov. Pete Ricketts has pledged to make property tax reductions his first priority rather than reducing income, corporate and other taxes. While Nebraska has a "rainy day" fund that could be dipped into, plans for reducing government spending have not yet been proffered and the state faces pressing demands for increased spending — on relieving over-crowded prisons, on a failed child welfare privatization plan, on education in school districts with large numbers of poor children and on Medicaid expansion.

Anderson and Thompson spoke about these difficult state financial issues in the talk.