The Revenue Committee heard testimony on two bills Jan. 29 that would divert state sales tax revenue to the state Game and Parks Commission.
LB814, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, would dedicate the state sales tax revenue derived from the sale or lease of motorboats and personal watercraft for Commission infrastructure maintenance projects.
Avery said many parks have been closed to free up personnel to work on deferred maintenance projects.
“People in this state like their parks and do use them,” he said. “It would be a travesty if we ignore the problem Game and Parks now faces in trying to maintain our parks.”
Currently, the state sales tax revenue is deposited into the state General Fund, the state Highway Capital Improvement Fund and the Highway Allocation Fund. Under LB814, the revenue would be directed to a newly created Game and Parks Commission Capital Maintenance Fund.
Roger Kuhn, representing the Commission, supported the bill, saying an investment in the parks system is an investment in the state’s tourism industry.
“The parks are in need of financial reform if we are to provide the quality of parks Nebraskans deserve and expect,” Kuhn testified. “We’ve taken steps in the past to try to address our deferred maintenance needs. This bill would help us to be sustainable in the future.”
Nebraska City resident Doug Friedly also supported the bill. He said the tourism industry brings in over $4 billion in annual revenue to the state.
“We need to ensure that visitors have a good experience when they come to our state parks so that they will encourage their friends and families to visit the state,” he said. “If we do not invest money to properly maintain the parks, it would be a waste of our natural resources.”
The committee also heard testimony on LB841, introduced by Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley, which also would help finance the Commission’s deferred maintenance projects. The bill would dedicate the state sales tax revenue from all-terrain and utility-type vehicles that have been titled in Nebraska to the Game and Parks Commission Capital Maintenance Fund.
Just as city taxes pay for city parks, Hadley said, state taxes should fund the state park system.
“I wonder why we treat city parks differently than state parks,” he said. “We have a state parks system that we’ve let go into disrepair because we haven’t been willing to step up to the plate and fund it.”
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Deputy Director Timothy McCoy supported the bill, saying the Commission is working to determine a way to meet current financing challenges.
“There are a lot of ideas used by other states that would never work in Nebraska,” he said. “We need [the Legislature’s] help to get on a sustainable funding path.”
No one testified in opposition to the bills and the committee took no immediate action on them.