Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

Some members of the Legislature feel trapped by business development tax incentives.

They are costly and they eat away at future state revenue, but many senators — and no doubt most — believe the state can't afford not to play that game.

Nebraska is in competition for business development with other states in this high-stakes, high-cost recruiting game.

So you heard a lot of senatorial blowback at a hearing on legislation to build a new tax incentive program to replace what we have now.

However, to put all that criticism in perspective, take a look at the bill and you will see 22 legislative sponsors.

There were 23, but Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln withdrew his name last week.

You gotta pay to play, the Legislature's Revenue Committee was told last week.

"Without this, the phone will stop ringing," David Brown, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, told senators. "If incentives disappear, so will economic development in the state."

* * *

Senators still don't know who pulled the plug on the petition drive to place a billion dollar property tax relief initiative on the 2018 general election ballot.

That generously funded effort to gain ballot access appeared headed toward a successful conclusion when it was suddenly, abruptly and mysteriously halted.

Senators who have attempted to find out who suddenly killed that effort said during interviews last week about the continuing property tax challenge that they were told that leaders of the petition effort are bound by a non-disclosure agreement.

Same answer I've gotten. 

Spokesmen for the 2018 effort said at the time that sponsors concluded that a proposed constitutional amendment might be a more secure method of guaranteeing property tax relief than an initiated law, which could be amended by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.

A petition drive currently is underway to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot, but it does not appear to have a direct or visible connection with the sponsors of the abandoned 2018 initiative.

A lingering question has been whether someone didn't want a billion dollar property tax reduction issue and its consequences mixed into the 2018 gubernatorial race. 

Or facing the 2019 legislative session.  

* * *

A vote on the legislative proposal to ban employment discrimination in Nebraska based on sexual orientation or gender identification showcased dramatic differences within the Legislature based on gender and party identification along with a sharp rural-urban divide.

A 26-16 procedural vote effectively killed the bill by removing it from the legislative agenda.

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Ten of the 16 senators who voted to keep the bill alive were women.

All of the 16 are registered Democrats.

All but one hailed from metropolitan Omaha or Lincoln.

After a 2018 general election that saw Omaha and Lincoln voters part company with most of the rest of the state in determining who should be U.S. senator and governor, that legislative vote was another indication of the emergence of two Nebraskas. 

* * *

Finishing up:

* Yikes, you know that the proposed Nebraska constitutional amendment to repeal an archaic provision that allows people to be enslaved in Nebraska for committing a crime is going to attract plenty of no votes. And that ain't gonna be pretty — or good for the state's image.

* Full-day floor debate is scheduled to begin in the legislative chamber on April 2. Only in Nebraska can you see all of the members of the state legislature in action in a single room.

* After agreement on principles, priorities and issues, the Legislature's Revenue Committee begins the heavy lifting this week with an executive session devoted to attempting to construct a tax reform plan. It ain't gonna be easy.

* Less than three weeks until the March 28 date set for completion of public hearings by legislative committees and that coincides with major league baseball's opening day. I move that it be designated as a state holiday.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.


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