Tax-incentives bill halted by filibuster
What goes around comes around in the Legislature. And sometimes it happens quickly.
Two days after a last-gasp property tax relief bill was ensnared by a legislative filibuster, a new business tax-incentives package was trapped by another filibuster fueled primarily by supporters of property tax reductions.
A motion to free the proposal (LB720) fell three votes short of the number required to end debate and failed on a 30-18 vote, erasing the bill from the agenda in the waning days of a legislative session that will adjourn next week.
This week’s results eliminated action on two major issues facing senators this year, but Friday’s vote appeared to hand property tax relief proponents some additional leverage heading into next year’s legislative session.
The state’s current tax-incentives program, called the Nebraska Advantage Act, is scheduled to expire at the end of 2020. This year’s restructured proposal, dubbed Imagine Nebraska, was designed to assure businesses and investors that a new incentives package would be in effect as they plan whether and where to locate or expand a couple of years in advance.
In terms of additional property tax relief, this year’s legislative session has approved a $51 million annual increase in the property tax credit, as recommended by Gov. Pete Ricketts, incorporating that hike into the fiscal 2019-21 state budget.
Friday’s debate centered on the state’s priorities, but did not ignore the potential element of payback by property tax relief proponents.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg said.
“But this is not us versus them,” said Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, sponsor of the new tax-incentives package. “It’s about how do we grow our state.”
Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, sponsor of this week’s $112 million property tax reduction plan (LB183), reminded his colleagues that he had voted to advance the business tax-incentives bill earlier in the week with the understanding that this would need to be “a package deal.”
“Nebraskans will understand why it has to stall now,” he said.
Following Friday’s results, Briese said he believes “it’s a win for Nebraskans, because it shows our commitment to try to solve the property tax problem.”
Joining rural senators in voting against the cloture motion that would have ended the filibuster were Sens. Machaela Cavanaugh, Ernie Chambers and Megan Hunt, all of Omaha, along with Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln.
Morfeld said he would not support business tax incentives until business interests also support “economic development for workers” through such issues as Medicaid expansion, minimum wage increases and paid family leave.
Before sidelining the proposal, the Legislature adopted an amendment offered by Sen. John Stinner of Gering, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, that would have provided “fiscal guard rails” designed to keep the program from becoming too expensive.
That amendment, adopted on a 32-12 vote, was one of many that had been brokered by Kolterman along the bill’s legislative journey in an effort to refashion the proposal to meet a host of senatorial concerns.
“Incentives do matter,” Stinner argued. “This says whether we’re open to business or not open to business.
“We need to send a signal,” he said.
“This is way too much of a tax cut for businesses,” Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said.
Sen. Julie Slama of Peru opposed the bill, arguing that the Legislature “should not prioritize corporate incentives over property tax relief.”
Earlier this month, a comprehensive tax reform bill fashioned by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee was trapped by a filibuster. That proposal (LB289) would have raised $372 million in new revenue to fund property tax relief delivered through state aid to schools.