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Snow, 10/14

The Nebraska State Capitol provides a backdrop as snow falls on Sunday, Oct. 14.

When it comes to Nebraska’s tax-incentive programs, everybody appears to want the same thing.

Based on the words of state senators, Gov. Pete Ricketts, business officials and chambers of commerce leaders, all parties involved desire laws that reward employers for creating more jobs – especially higher-paying ones – and economic development in Nebraska without breaking the bank.

With a legislative task force twice voting to recommend the Legislature sunset two tax-incentive programs a year before their 2020 end date and eliminate three separate tax credits slated to run through 2022, the state finds itself at a crossroads.

Yes, it will take a bill and legislative action to convert the task force’s suggestion into law. But that process also provides a chance for these officials to have a far-reaching conversation on the most effective means of promoting job creation and economic growth – and they must capitalize on it.

Several senators have questioned whether the state’s incentives – particularly those in the Nebraska Advantage Act – achieve their goal in a manner that isn’t too burdensome to taxpayers. Meanwhile, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry believes they’ve been an effective tool to maintain current employers while attracting new ones.

Having two entities look at the same data and draw two different conclusions isn’t abnormal. With that in mind, the proper solution is for all sides to come to the table to strike a compromise that satisfies everyone. The contention surrounding the task force’s vote underscores the need for collaboration.

Perhaps Ricketts said it best last week during a news conference on an unrelated topic: "What I would like to see is more accountability and transparency. I would like to make the statutes easier to use for businesses. And I'd like to focus on higher-paying jobs.”

The governor’s remarks show that incentive programs could be tweaked in a way that would address everyone’s concerns. He’s certainly right in that they can be improved. But that requires everyone to be willing to endure some give and take along the way.

Business incentives aren’t going anywhere, as the recent hubbub over Amazon’s HQ2 project proved. But this state must be diligent not to give away the farm, as some senators have worried, in pursuit of preserving and creating jobs. And despite its hard-working and educated workforce, Nebraska must overcome some hurdles in terms of geography, population and perception.

We can all agree on that. Because of that accord and a common desire to improve the state’s economy to help all Nebraskans, middle ground no doubt exists.

Now, it’s on all parties to work together to find it.

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