The Revenue Committee held a special hearing Feb. 6 to hear testimony on an amendment to a bill introduced last year that would create a new business tax incentive program.
The application period for the current program, the Nebraska Advantage Act, is set to end this year.
LB720, as introduced last session by Seward Sen. Mark Kolterman, would create the ImagiNE Nebraska Act. Qualifying businesses would receive a varying combination of incentives—wage credits, income tax credits, sales and use tax refunds and exemptions, personal property tax exemptions or real property tax refunds—based on their level of capital investment and the number of employees they hire at a minimum qualifying wage.
Kolterman said the amendment, which would replace the bill, is largely the same as the original proposal, with a few important changes. The amendment would decrease certain wage requirements because rural manufacturers could not meet them, he said.
Even with the decrease, Kolterman said, the proposed wage requirements are higher than those in the Nebraska Advantage Act, and the new program would require companies that receive incentives to offer health insurance and a “sufficient benefits package.”
He said the amendment also would add a provision meant to encourage new owners of “key employers” to retain jobs in Nebraska when they are considering moving all or some of those jobs out of the state. Such mergers and acquisitions are growing more frequent, Kolterman said.
“If this had been in place a few years ago, our state would have been more competitively positioned to keep Cabela’s in Sidney,” he said. “We simply cannot afford to continue to be reactive to the reality of today’s economy.”
Metka Kolm testified in support of the amendment on behalf of Nucor Steel and the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Kolm said the high wage threshold and a lack of capital investment credits under the original proposal’s entry-level tiers prevented manufacturers from qualifying. The amendment would address both of those problems, she said.
Kolm said manufacturers typically offer new employees entry-level wages but offer strong benefits packages and wage increases over time.
“We believe that the state’s incentive package should recognize this unique entry-level position if it wants to grow and keeps jobs in the manufacturing sector,” she said.
David G. Brown testified in support of the amendment on behalf of the Greater Omaha Chamber and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.
He said the proposed job retention incentives would help Nebraska act quickly when it faces the loss of a large employer, as it does now with Fiserv’s recent purchase of First Data and Charles Schwab’s potential acquisition of TD Ameritrade.
Renee Fry, executive director of OpenSky Policy Institute, testified in opposition. She said the proposal would reduce state revenue by approximately $1 billion over the next decade when Nebraska still has hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding obligations under its current tax incentive programs.
Fry said the proposal’s cost especially is concerning when the Legislature also is considering a major property tax relief proposal and funding for a large expansion project at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
If passed, she said, those three measures alone could consume 6.8 to 9.4 percent of state revenue between 2023 and 2028.
Additionally, Fry said, the proposed wage thresholds are much lower than in the original bill. She said the lowest qualifying wage would make a family of four eligible for government benefits such as Medicaid, SNAP and free or reduced lunch.
The committee took no immediate action on the amendment.