Tax breaks proposed for moving to shrinking areas

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January 5, 2012 - 6:00pm

A proposal to give tax breaks to people who move to counties with decreasing populations was among bills introduced in the Legislature Friday. Senator Galen Hadley of Kearney said his proposal for tax breaks could be one way to address the depopulation of many counties in Nebraska. "The concern is that a lot of these counties and cities in outstate Nebraska have jobs, and they don't have people to take the jobs," he said.

The bill would offer income tax credits of $1,500 for up to five years. They'd be offered to people who move to counties that have lost 5 percent or more of their population between 2000 and 2010. Hadley said the idea is modeled after a new law in Kansas that's already succeeding in attracting some professional people.

Only people who had not had 10 thousand dollars' worth of income from a job in Nebraska in the last five years would be eligible - in other words, Hadley said, the idea could attract young people back to Nebraska if they've left the state, or people from other states looking for a place to retire. He acknowledges it would treat newcomers better than longtime residents, but says that's the same as the state's corporate tax incentives."You know, we've done a lot with corporations and businesses to try and attract them to Nebraska. Well, let's try and attract maybe some people," he suggested.

Meanwhile, the sponsors of two bills on establishing health insurance exchanges talked about their different approaches in separate interviews. Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist promoted his bill. "Our bill specifically sets up a board of key stakeholders including representatives of consumers, small businesses, health care providers and representatives of the insurance industry, to come together in a public, open forum and make the determination of how to craft an exchange for Nebraska," Nordquist said. "We think that's a much better approach than having the decisions made unilaterally by one agency director and one elected official."

Nordquist was referring to the alternative contained in a bill by Omaha Sen. Rich Pahls. It authorizes the state Director of Insurance, who answers to the governor, to establish an exchange. Pahls said he thinks the Department of Insurance should be deeply involved, but he's flexible about the shape of the bill "This is basically what I call a skeleton. It'll just give us something to say, Okay, this part may need to be tweaked, we like this or this,' and we'll come up from that."

Considering the money at stake, the structure of whichever bill emerges may well set off a turf battle between powerful interests, with insurance companies favoring the Insurance Department being in charge, and provider groups, like hospitals, favoring a governing board.

A separate subject provided a point of unanimous agreement in the Legislature. It's the 75th anniversary of the beginning of Nebraska's nonpartisan, one house legislature. Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, a registered Democrat, sponsored a resolution honoring Sen. George Norris, the political godfather of the Unicameral. "Nonpartisanship prevails. Openness prevails. Accountability prevails. The Unicameral is strong, the Unicameral prevails, and we can be proud of that," he said.

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood, a registered Republican, joined in the praise. "If you ever have a moment, and you're a new senator, and you go to one of these conferences with other members of different legislatures in the country, ask them about their experiences, and then tell em yours," Flood advised his fellow senators. "You'll find out, without a doubt, that what we have here is not only unique, it's special, and more than anything, it makes us as individual legislators effective."

Over the years, some critics of Nebraska's Legislature have said its nonpartisanship actually diminishes accountability, and have proposed changing it. But no such critics spoke up on the resolution, which was passed on a vote of 39-0.




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