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LINCOLN, Neb. -- A trial with millions of dollars
and compliance with the Republican River compact at stake
was scheduled to begin in Lancaster County District Court. A
ruling in the high-stakes case was not expected soon by
Lancaster County District Judge Paul Merritt, but one is
Property owners along the river sued the state, arguing
that property taxes they must pay to buy water to send to
Kansas are unconstitutional. A state law passed last year
allowed natural resources districts in the river basin to
set property taxes.
The property owners argue the property taxes are for a
state purpose -- getting into compliance with the Republican
River compact Nebraska has struggled to meet -- and cite an
article in the state constitution that says the state "shall
be prohibited from levying a property tax for state
The legal brief submitted to the court by the plaintiffs
contain many quotes from state senators and officials who
spoke last year about how the law could help the state get
in compliance with the compact.
The quotes are meant to show the law was solely designed
to help meet the compact and doesn't also have local
purposes, as the state has said.
"The legislative history of LB701 is replete with
references to compact compliance," says the brief from the
The state argues that locally elected boards of natural
resources districts, not the state, set the taxes, and that
the tax revenue benefits local people by increasing the
amount of water. Among the things the tax revenue can be
used for is removing invasive plants that suck water from
the river and its tributaries.
In briefs filed with the court, the state acknowledges
the law also has a state purpose -- to get into compliance
with the compact -- but also says that "the fact that
property taxes are used to fund activities which achieve
both state and local purposes does not render the property
The cities of McCook, Stratton and Arapahoe are
supporting the lawsuit against the state. They say that it's
unfair their residents are taxed because the water they use
doesn't affect flows in the Republican River.
The court battle comes as Kansas is readying for a
possible lawsuit against Nebraska.
Nebraska has overused its allotment of river water under
the compact and Kansas has grown impatient, with officials
there recently suggesting they're ready for a legal showdown
and demanding both money and sharp cuts in Nebraska water
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