Bill aimed at snaring big data center advances

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February 8, 2012 - 6:00pm

Senators advanced a bill Thursday designed to attract large data centers to Nebraska and a committee endorsed putting a pay raise for senators on the ballot. Meanwhile a lawsuit was filed over the contentious issue of beer sales in Whiteclay, and a report upheld the propriety of a review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The data center bill is being promoted as necessary for the state to compete for a large project by an unnamed company. An Iowa official said Thursday that the company is considering two locations in that state and one in Nebraska for a 1.2 billion dollar project.

The Nebraska proposal would offer tax credits and breaks on sales and property taxes for data center projects that create at least 300 million dollars of investment and at least 30 new jobs. Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, which is said to be one of the locations under consideration, says the tax breaks would add to the state's existing competitive advantages.

"Professional economic developers tell us that when high-tech companies begin site selection, they look for certain things: low cost, reliable energy, a climate free from widespread disasters, open spaces, access to solid fiber networks, and friendly tax climate," he said.

No one spoke against the bill, which the Legislature gave first round approval on a vote of 41-0.

Meanwhile, the Legislature's Executive Board took the first step toward putting the question of a pay raise for senators on the November ballot. On a 6-3 vote, senators advanced a proposal to raise their pay from the current $12,000 a year to $22,500. Speaker Mike Flood said that would be an appropriate level to maintain a citizen Legislature. The last pay raise was approved in 1988. The issue now goes to the full Legislature, which would have to approve before it could be submitted to the voters.

Another issue that's come before the Legislature repeatedly -- beer sales in the northwest Nebraska town of Whiteclay -- has taken a legal turn. The Ogalala Sioux tribe is suing beer retailers, distributors and brewers, claiming they knew or should have known that the alcohol they supply is an essential element in an on-going illegal activity.

Whiteclay borders on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The lawsuit says four stores in the town of 12 people sell the equivalent of nearly 5 million cans of beer a year. It says "vast amounts" of that are illegally transported, resold and consumed. Alcohol is officially prohibited on the reservation, but alcoholism affects 85 percent of all families, and the lawsuit says the average life expectancy there is between 45 and 52 years.

The tribe has hired former state Sen. Tom White to represent it. White explained the legal theory, saying "If I know, or I should know, that I am selling alcohol to a person who's going to bring it in across the border in violation of their legal and civil duties to Ogalala Sioux Tribe and I give them substantial assistance or encouragement, then I am responsible along with that smuggler, that bootlegger, for all the damages it has caused.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Lincoln Thursday. Efforts to get a response from the defendants were not immediately successful.

And on the Keystone XL pipeline front, the State Department's inspector general released a report saying it found no evidence that department employees were improperly influenced by pipeline supporters or pipeline company TransCanada. Pipeline opponents had said TransCanada had a cozy relationship with department officials that affected an environmental impact statement.

The proposed pipeline has been on hold since President Obama rejected a permit for it last month, but said the company could reapply. TransCanada said it will.




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