The World-Herald’s Statehouse reporters round up news highlights from the Legislature and state government into the Capitol Digest — a daily briefing for the political newshound with a busy schedule.

Cellphone taxes. A proposal to require voter approval of local cellphone taxes stalled Wednesday in the Legislature.

Senators debated Legislative Bill 550 for parts of two days before lawmakers moved on to other issues.

State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha introduced the bill, saying he couldn’t understand why Nebraska’s taxes on wireless phone services were fourth-highest in the nation. Requiring a vote to continue local occupation taxes on cellphone bills (the tax amounts to 6.25% in Omaha and 6% in Lincoln) would require cities to justify the levies.

But the bill got plenty of pushback from some senators, who argued that it wasn’t right for the state to tell cities how to handle local tax issues.

Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld said that if Lincoln lost the $4 million it gets from occupation taxes on wireless phone services, it would create budget problems — problems that could force an increase in property taxes. He added that if people don’t like local cellphone taxes, they should replace their City Council representatives.

It was unclear whether LB 550 would return to debate this year. Seven years ago, then-State Sen. Deb Fischer tried to get a similar measure passed concerning voter approval of all occupation taxes. She won approval of a compromise proposal that required voter approval of major occupation taxes.

Wind energy and eminent domain. The second time was a charm for Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, who won first-round approval of his wind energy bill on Wednesday after it had stalled earlier in the session.

Under a compromise version of LB 155, advanced on a 40-1 vote, public power districts would get a “rebuttable presumption” that their use of eminent domain to install transmission lines to wind farms is in the public interest.

That language, supporters said, would give landowners who didn’t want a connecting line across their property a chance to argue against it in court.

The original LB 155 would have blocked public power districts from ever using eminent domain power for such transmission lines. Opponents said the original version would have stifled the state’s robust recent wind energy development.

Brewer has been a staunch opponent of a new transmission line, called the R-Line, that is proposed to cross portions of the Sand Hills.

Tax incentive report. Seward Sen. Mark Kolterman says a recent state performance audit on the state’s Advantage Act was based on “incomplete data” and failed to recognize the importance of such tax incentive programs.

The audit, released last week, said the Advantage Act created budgeting problems because it exceeded its projected cost in four of the past five years, by $24 million to $60 million per year. The audit also estimated that it cost the state between $5,200 and $209,000 per job in excused tax payments.

Kolterman, who is sponsoring a replacement incentive program called the ImagiNE Act, said the conclusions, while off base, pointed to the critical need for a replacement. Incentive programs, he said, do inspire economic growth and keep Nebraska competitive with other states.

Capitol Digest reporters photo xcapitoldigest capitoldigest

From left, World-Herald legislative reporters Martha Stoddard, Paul Hammel and Aaron Hegarty.

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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