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Attorney, banker square off in Senate race: Meister eyes property tax system
May 01, 2014 Jerry Purvis   

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Mike Meister

Scottsbluff attorney Mike Meister, who’s run for both attorney general and Nebraska governor, has narrowed his focus and is running for the state Legislature in District 48.

There is no incumbent for the seat, as Sen. John Harms has just completed his statute-limited two terms.

“I’ve run two statewide races and it’s a lot of work to get name recognition in the major population areas when you’re from here,” Meister said. “To run a successful campaign, you really need to spend probably two-thirds of the year in a five-county region between Omaha and Lincoln. I just wasn’t ready to commit that kind of time because my youngest daughter is still in high school.”

It was John Harms who recommended Meister get his name in early if he was running for the District 48 senate seat. So he made the announcement last winter.

A 1979 graduate of Scottsbluff High School, Meister graduated from Creighton School of Law before enlisting in the U.S. Army. He was assigned to the Judge Advocate General Corps and served four years in Germany before reassignment for a year at Ft. Drum, N.Y.

He returned to Scottsbluff in 1992 to practice law, first with his father then on his own.

Meister said the biggest issue facing Scotts Bluff County, which also affects every rural county, is the property tax system He described it as “unfair and over time has gotten less fair.”

He said the problem is state’s market-based approach to valuation, rather than a production-based approach, which many surrounding states have.
“Market-based makes no sense because if your piece of property isn’t turning a profit, you aren’t making any money on it,” he said. “Production-based is more fair approach to look at ag land values.”

He added the creation of the Tax Equalization and Review Commission, although done with good intentions, creates an overly broad approach to valuation.

TERC was supposed to equalize valuations of land that lies in more than one county, as each county might have different valuation. Meister said a better approach is for cross county taxing authorities be allowed to set levies at different levels for each county. That would restore local control and the taxing authorities would need to be accountable to the public, rather than blaming TERC.

Going hand in glove with property tax is education. Meister said that if the state took ownership of school infrastructure, such as buildings, individual districts could eliminate special funds and spend their property tax dollars on textbooks and teacher salaries. “I don’t know if it would work, but I’d like to pursue the idea,” he said.

Another big issue for western Nebraska is economic growth. Meister said the area has jobs, but many are entry level. Bringing in infrastructure makes the area more attractive to outside businesses that want to move in.

Meister said he would also like to see Nebraska invest more in tourism, as the state is now 45th in the country for those expenditures.

“I see my job as setting good policy that will give local governments the tools they need to create their own solutions,” he said.

Meister faces Gering banker John Stinner on the May 13 primary ballot for State Senator in District. 48.

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