Inside the Rotunda, Week 21

Business Incentives Vs Property Taxes
A week of high drama last week ended with a whimper for those pushing two tax bills, one aimed at creating a new business tax incentive program and another a last-ditch effort to reduce property taxes. LB183 (Briese), a bill supported by rural senators pushing for property tax reductions, stalled on a filibuster early in the week and then those pushing to lower rural property taxes took out their frustration later in the week by successfully filibustering LB720 (Kolterman). The property tax reduction faction, led by Senator Briese and others argued that business incentives should only be passed after the property tax question was addressed. Senator Kolterman and others argued that it would send the wrong message to prospective employers to wait another year to institute a new business incentive program. The current Nebraska Advantage Program sunsets next year. Research from Open Sky Policy Institute shows tax incentive programs like LB720 are costly and ineffective. Progressive senators were just as split as conservatives on LB720, with some opposing because of the ineffectiveness of the tax incentive system and others arguing that there needs to be more requirements for businesses receiving the benefits to have strong nondiscrimination policies and worker protections. 

Incidentally, the Governor signed the budget into law over the Memorial Day weekend without any line-item vetoes. This budget does include a $51 million annual increase to the Property Tax Credit Fund, but many rural senators don’t think this goes far enough. One thing is for sure, there will be a lot of bargaining over property taxes and business incentive as these issues carry over into next session. 

Interim Studies 
The Legislature will be working on a lot of big issues over the interim. Check out the list of interim studies to see what is included. 

Consent Calendar “Cowardice” 
The consent calendar agenda offers an opportunity for senators to make more technical (or cleanup) changes to law without spending a lot of time on debate. On Thursday, the Legislature sent a number of consent calendar bills to the Governor’s desk, but not before a dustup over a move by four conservative senators to try and remove a bill from the agenda at the last-minute. LB533 (Cavanaugh) updates certain statutes to make it consistent with federal law by using gender neutral terminology regarding marriage. According to consent calendar rules, three senators may submit a letter to the Clerk and have a bill removed from consent at any stage during debate. LB533 cleared the first two of three rounds of debate without any problem. But Senators Robert Clements, Steve Erdman, Dave Murman and John Lowe submitted a letter at the last possible moment before the bill came up on final round and LB533 was passed over. A teary-eyed and shocked Senator Cavanaugh took to the microphone to express her disappointment. Senator Patty Pansing Brooks then took to the microphone to call out her colleagues who submitted the letter for their last minute and “cowardly” timing. Senator Pansing Brooks worked behind the scenes to get the Speaker to reschedule the bill for the next day. It was rescheduled for Friday and it passed. A couple of the Senators who submitted the letter apologized. The dustup may not have violated actual rules, but there are certain unspoken rules of collegiality.

Present Not Voting
Speaking of collegiality, ever wonder why senators are “present not voting” in floor votes? The answer could be a senator leaving the floor or not paying attention. But for some, it’s a deliberate “soft no” vote. For instance, during a vote on cloture to break a filibuster, a “present not voting” serves the same purpose as a “no” vote since 33 ayes are required to break the filibuster. This passive form of “no” is common as senators may not want a “no” vote on their record or, who knows, maybe they feel like the “present” vote is a more “Nebraska Nice” way of helping kill it softly. They may also not want opponents of a no vote to publicly target them. But don’t be fooled, a no is a no. 

Until Next Time,

Your Capitol Fly on the Wall