When the Nebraska Legislature recently resumed its session, property tax relief and business incentives towered as two of the lawmakers’ central obligations. Yet, this week the Legislature is staring failure in the face on those very issues. This needless stalemate risks enormous harm to Nebraska.
The cries for property tax relief from many quarters in the state are unmistakable and legitimate. The state has long provided a measure of relief, it’s true, but the burdens on many households well exceed that help. Senators pushing for further relief are responding to reasonable calls from constituents.
Meanwhile, the Legislature’s dithering on business incentives issues risks putting a dunce cap on Nebraska economic development, making ours the only state next year without an incentives program. Critics may cheer such a prospect, but in the real world of economic development, such incentives play a vital role. As testimony during legislative hearings has made clear, businesses must plan far ahead with their investment plans. For Nebraska to even be considered, it must have clear, well-structured incentives. Removing the state’s ability to offer them automatically short-circuits Nebraska’s ability to compete.
Senators’ misguided efforts to derail the well-crafted incentives revamp, Legislative Bill 720, will undermine economic development in every part of the state.
It’s especially ironic that LB 720 has faced stiff opposition from some rural lawmakers, since the bill sponsor, State Sen. Mark Kolterman, took pains to include specific rural-focused provisions, responding to demands from rural colleagues. Undermining negotiations made in good faith goes against a key principle for the Legislature.
How must the Legislature overcome its current gridlock? Here are some key ingredients for the way forward:
» Leadership. Key figures in the Legislature can play a crucial role by convincing fellow senators to move beyond their differences and seek compromise. These leaders must be facilitators and not naysayers. These considerations definitely apply, also, to Gov. Pete Ricketts, who sets the boundaries for what’s politically acceptable for a considerable number of Republican state senators.
» A willingness to negotiate. The Legislature suffers greatly this session from my-way-or-the-highway thinking. Senators must be willing to engage in serious give-and-take.
» Flexibility. Lawmakers must be willing to accept getting only a partial loaf for their views rather than a whole one. They must have an openness to new ideas and alternate approaches. They must set aside their egos.
Nebraska lawmakers stand at the brink of a terrible failure for themselves and the state. Senators mustn’t let that happen. They have an all-important duty to find the final compromises for tax relief and a sound business incentives strategy. Get it done now.
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