Lawmakers at the state and national levels too often kick the can down the road on important issues. A key example in Nebraska is the Legislature’s failure to agree on a new business incentives law. The current one, the Nebraska Advantage Act, expires at the end of 2020.
Businesses need certainty when deciding on their investments, and the question marks that currently hover over Nebraska’s incentives situation undercut the state’s ability to land major projects. Testimony at the Legislature’s committee hearings this year made that clear.
When the Legislature meets beginning in January, state senators should bridge their differences and amend Legislative Bill 720, the incentives bill, appropriately so it wins the needed filibuster-proof 33 votes. This goal should be a central priority for the 2020 session.
State senators supportive of LB 720, together with economic development officials and chamber representatives from across the state, held a press conference last week to discuss its significance.
Lance Hedquist, the longtime city administrator for South Sioux City, described how Nebraska’s business incentives were crucial in clinching agreements for two food processing plants in his city, rather than seeing them settle across the state line in Iowa or South Dakota.
Incentives, indeed, have enabled projects to move forward in many communities around the state. During 2007-17, Nebraska Advantage Act incentives supported projects not only in Omaha and Lincoln but also in communities including Scottsbluff, Alliance, McCook, Lexington, Minden, O’Neill, Neligh, Holdrege, Hastings, Albion, Beatrice, Columbus, Fremont, Plattsmouth and Nebraska City.
Such business investments bring important long-term benefits to communities. The multiplier effects include increased jobs, greater consumer demand for local business and more tax revenue for local needs.
LB 720 contains many improvements over current law. It provides incentives for higher-wage jobs and shortens the payout time to reduce the chances of big fluctuations in year-to-year tax credit obligations. It sets differential wage rates for incentives to promote development in communities of all sizes. It removes overly complicated procedures in the current law.
Still, a considerable number of state senators are withholding support for LB 720. Changes they demand include further steps to hold down incentives’ annual costs and increased focus on rural needs.
Rural senators insist, in particular, that the incentives legislation should pass only if a property tax relief bill also wins approval. It’s encouraging that the bill sponsor, State Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, has demonstrated his ability to work with a wide range of lawmakers.
Such skill will be crucial next session in winning passage of LB 720. Further delay will only harm Nebraska.