Business investment tax incentives are back in the legislative examining room.

A good investment? Or just a necessary one?

A winner or a loser in cost-benefit terms?

A boon largely for urban Nebraska or a statewide benefit?

Can the state afford to do it? 

Or can the state afford not to do it?

Those are familiar arguments and they surfaced once again during examination of the new Imagine Nebraska legislative proposal by the Legislature's Revenue Committee last week.

The current Nebraska Advantage Act sunsets at the end of next year and the new legislative plan (LB720) has become entwined with tax reform and property tax relief and that's a complicated kettle that's brewing on the burner now.

Recent business tax incentives granted equate to more than $100,000 for each new job created, according to some data presented to the committee.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson raised concerns about "a Cadillac program" at a time of declining state revenue growth.

It's the cost of creating "a dynamic economy" in a highly competitive environment, Sen. John Stinner of Gering argued.

"It takes a lot of capital to create manufacturing jobs."

Wrapping this into tax legislation, as the committee appears ready to do, creates a sense of urgency and a need for the kind of big-picture, urban-rural compromise and coalition-building that has evaded the Legislature on tax policy so far.

It is, in TV network terms, a developing story, not breaking news.

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The public rebuke of President Trump by Nebraska corn farmers last week ranked somewhere between startling and stunning.

So far, agriculture has stuck with the president through thick and thin, even though there may have been a lot of thin in terms of lost, or delayed, trade opportunities.

The president's pattern has been to destroy trade agreements that have been important to agriculture and then negotiate new ones and take credit for them.

In the meantime, there are delays and lost opportunities to market agricultural products and, in some cases, the end result may be the loss of markets.

A Nebraska Farm Bureau study estimated a billion dollars in farm income losses in Nebraska in 2018 tied to the president's trade policies, specifically factoring in the retaliatory response to his desire to employ tariffs as a weapon.

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The president is hailing a tentative new trade agreement with Japan almost three years after he scuttled the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that included Japan during his initial days in office.

TPP also included 10 markets in addition to Japan.

A month before the 2016 presidential election, the late Clayton Yeutter argued that TPP was "an absolute slam dunk" in terms of U.S. national interests and particularly beneficial for Nebraska agriculture, even though it probably needed a couple of negotiated amendments on intellectual property and tobacco that Yeutter believed could be resolved.

U.S. beef and pork "probably are the two biggest winners in TPP," the former U.S. secretary of agriculture and former U.S. trade representative said in an interview with the Journal Star.

President Trump swiftly scrapped that agreement once he took office.

That, in Yeutter's view, was the kind of action that would hand over to China "leadership in Asia for decades to come."

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A year after President Trump's withdrawal from TPP, the Nebraska Farm Bureau said the United States "missed a massive opportunity to expand agricultural exports to a growing region of the world."

"Your action to pull the U.S. out of the TPP reset the clock and put our trade negotiators and our nation's farmers and ranchers back at square one with some of our largest potential trading partners," Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson wrote in a letter to the president.

Meanwhile, NAFTA and its key U.S. trading relationships with Mexico and Canada was renegotiated and a new agreement awaits approval in Congress.

Now it's the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement.

It's up to Nebraska farmers and rural communities to determine whether all of this reshuffling and multi-year loss of markets during the process of building new trade compacts has been worth the delay and results in a positive trade-off.

That's their call to make.

Last week's rupture by the corn growers may have had more to do with ethanol than trade, and it might be just a blip on the screen. 

Rural Nebraska's alignment with President Trump is built on more than farm and trade policy.

If you're gonna bet, it's probably likely that rural Nebraska will stick with Trump in 2020.

* * *

Finishing up:

* Google's agreement to pay up to $200 million to resolve a Federal Trade Commission investigation into YouTube's alleged violations of a children's online privacy protection law follows efforts by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline asking Google to stop tracking and marketing to children through YouTube.

* Big game turns into bigger game after Saturday's disappointing offensive performance: An afternoon in Boulder might tip this season one way or the other.

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.


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