Bill to improve tax incentive audits amended, advanced

A bill intended to improve legislative performance audits of the state’s tax incentive programs was amended and advanced to final reading Feb. 22.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist38' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. John Kuehn'>Sen. John Kuehn</a>
Sen. John Kuehn

LB936, introduced by the Legislative Performance Audit Committee, would make a number of changes to the Legislative Performance Audit Act. The act requires the Legislative Audit Office to conduct performance audits that review state agency programs in order to evaluate the agency’s success in effectively implementing legislative intent.

Among other changes, the bill would extend from three to five the number of years between audit reviews of tax incentive programs. The bill also would require that audits analyze the cost per full-time worker and whether job growth in businesses receiving tax incentives is at least 10 percent above industry average.

In addition, the bill would define a high-quality job as one that averages at least 35 hours of employment per week and earns wages at least 10 percent higher than the statewide industry sector average.

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz offered an amendment on select file that would further refine the wage portion of the definition of a high-quality job. The amendment would change the definition to wages that are at least 10 percent higher than the statewide industry sector average and that equal or exceed 110 percent of the Nebraska average weekly wage if the job is in a county with a population of less than 100,000 inhabitants, or 120 percent of the Nebraska average weekly wage if the job is in a county with a population of more than 100,000 inhabitants.

“The amendment just raises the bar a little bit in terms of how we are evaluating what it means to be a high-quality job,” Bolz said. “What we have heard and learned from economic development research in a number of places and ways is that Nebraska needs to focus on job quality—and wages are a part of that.”

Heartwell Sen. John Kuehn, chairperson of the Performance Audit Committee, supported the amendment.

“It helps further clarify and give guidance to the Performance Audit Committee in terms of how to assess these incentive programs,” he said.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue also spoke in favor of the change, saying it would help focus audit efforts on making sure that the $200 million the state invests annually in incentive programs is resulting in the kind of jobs that lawmakers intended.

“What you measure is what you get,” Crawford said. “We want to make sure that these jobs are also increasing our Nebraska wage.”

Following adoption of the Bolz amendment on a 33-0 vote, the bill advanced to final reading by voice vote.

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