State senators ask frequently if the tax incentives approved in recent years are measuring up.

While the Department of Revenue has reported on how many projects were approved each year, through such programs as the Nebraska Advantage Act, and how much companies received in tax refunds, lawmakers wanted more information.

And each year, someone seemed to be proposing yet another incentive. 

A legislative committee, the Tax Incentives Evaluation Committee, created by the Legislature with a resolution (LR444), is working on getting those answers.

Consultants from Pew Charitable Trusts outlined ideas for the committee Thursday on what and how to evaluate Nebraska's tax incentive programs, of which there are at least seven.

The Nebraska Advantage Act is one of the major incentive programs. Last year, 26 projects were counted in the program that yielded 4,379 new jobs paying an average of $49,502 per job. The projects used $115 million in tax credits in 2012-13, according to a Nebraska Department of Revenue report. 

The companies with the largest tax refunds were BNSF Railway, which received $36.4 million in tax incentives last year; Monsanto Co., $16.9 million; Archer Daniels Midland, $13.7 million; TD Ameritrade Holding Corp., $11.3 million; and PayPal, $9.5 million.

In the future, the state could dig deeper into how the incentive programs are working by measuring such things as how many new workers are brought into the companies, not just moved from other similar companies; cost per job; job growth rate compared with companies that don't receive incentives; and increases in business investment.

Committee members said they'd also like to know the change in poverty rates in distressed areas where companies received tax incentives, compared with other areas; how many patents were applied for and granted; and the percentage of angel investors new to investing in the state.

Pew consultants Bob Zahradnik and Josh Goodman said evaluations can be used to determine if the state's goals for tax incentives are met. The goals include strengthening the state's overall economy, revitalizing rural and distressed areas of the state, such as high poverty areas, diversifying the state's economy, and positioning Nebraska for the future.

Committee Chairman John Harms said his sense is the incentive programs are creating jobs that would not otherwise be created.

It will take a few years to get the data together, he said, by evaluating programs on a staggered schedule.

"It's not going to be an easy task," he said.  

The committee will hold public hearings on the tax incentive evaluations in late August.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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