By Bruce Bohrer
The 2023 legislative session wrapped up its 90-day session two days early, ending on June 1. Several pieces of legislation integral to the Lincoln Chamber’s 2023 policy agenda were passed into law, many of which are important to our long-term Vitality Lincoln strategy.
Tax competitiveness has been a top business advocacy objective for the past several sessions. In fact, state elected leaders had made great progress previously at the urging of business advocacy groups on both individual and corporate income tax relief and property tax relief. Additionally, the exemption of social security income from tax has been a central objective of our tax reform agenda.
This year, under the leadership of Governor Jim Pillen, Speaker John Arch, Revenue Committee Chair Lou Ann Linehan, the Revenue Committee members and many other senators, our state leaders found a way to work through ardent opponents of tax cuts to deliver tax relief in a more accelerated fashion to the people of Nebraska. The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce testified in support of LB754 through expert testimony delivered by local CPA and tax expert Brian Klintworth of HBE LLP.
As noted in the Midland’s Voices piece (5-14023) from Lincoln Chamber president and CEO Jason Ball, Nebraska Chamber president Bryan Slone and Omaha Chamber interim president Tim Burke:
“Governor Jim Pillen’s tax plan will put Nebraska on the map of lower-tax states at long last, with a top income tax rate of 3.99%, exemptions for social security and military retirement income, and finally addressing high property tax in a serious way. Passing these bills must be a priority for our legislators. Why? Because the economic future of our state for our children and grandchildren is dependent upon remaining competitive for talent, jobs and economic growth. We still have a way to go before reaching our full growth potential. But think how far we’ll get if we give those extra tax dollars back to Nebraskans. After all, it’s their hard-earned money, and our consistently high revenues show that they have been over-taxed for quite some time.”
Securing funding for a secondary water source for Lincoln and the region was proposed by Senator Eliot Bostar in the original form of LB506. LB506 was introduced with the intent of creating a grant program for the design, construction and implementation of water treatment, transmission and distribution, land acquisition, permitting, water wellfield construction, pumping and transportation of water over 25 miles for the purpose of providing potable water. The proposal, while amended into a state budget bill (LB814), remained true to this original intent and secured $179.2M in ARPA funds for this purpose.
The Lincoln-region secondary water source proposal was the result of extensive review and study by the Mayor’s Water Source Advisory Council. The final recommendation of the Water Source Advisory Council was to secure a wellfield to draw ground water from the Missouri River. The Lincoln Chamber Board adopted a support position for this recommendation shortly after it was announced, and the secondary water issue was a priority issue of both our 2023 State Policy Agenda and the collaboration meetings we hosted with Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and members of the Lincoln/Lancaster County delegation of state senators. This is an incredibly important issue for the long-term growth and sustainability of our community. It is worth noting that when the Lincoln Chamber testified in support of this legislation in front of the Appropriations Committee, we were speaking on behalf of the Lincoln Chamber, the Lincoln Independent Business Association and the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
State funding assistance for building a downtown Lincoln Convention Center was another key objective driven by the Lincoln Chamber, Visit Lincoln, the Downtown Lincoln Association, Downtown Lincoln Rotary #14 and many other community partners. One of the proposals, seeking a direct appropriation of a total of $71M in state cash reserve funds, was strongly supported by Visit Lincoln Executive Director Jeff Maul and Downtown Lincoln Association President and CEO Todd Ogden, as well as Matt Anderson from the Branched Oak Observatory. Senator Anna Wishart of Lincoln was the driving force and champion behind the state appropriation proposal. A complementary effort championed by Senator Eliot Bostar sought to re-activate and enhance the Convention Center Facility Financing Assistance Act, often referred to as turn-back funding. Turn-back funding, which returns a significant amount of state sales tax revenues derived by sources near the new development, has been successfully utilized by Lincoln and other larger communities to build facilities such as Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Other positive items from this legislative session included language for affordable housing adjacent to qualified census tracts that will facilitate the use of affordable housing funds, language to help bolster our mega-site development strategy, the re-instatement of R&D tax credits, and the Appropriations Committee committing slightly higher state appropriations for the University of Nebraska.
We thank all local and state elected officials for their commitment to growing our great state and our Lincoln Chamber membership for their engagement on policy issues.