Tax study facing complications; new wind for wind bills

Tax study facing complications; new wind for wind bills

By Paul Hammel February 27, 2013 7:28 pm Comments

 Most people figured the death of Gov. Dave Heineman’s tax-reform proposals meant a little breathing room, until next year, on the matter.

 Wrong-o.

 Wednesday, the Legislature’s Executive Board had a bunch of concerns and suggested changes for the proposal tax study that rose from the ashes of the governor’s bills.

 And then later in the day, the Legislature’s “defender of the downtrodden,” Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, pledged to fight and filibuster any tax reform ideas, thus forcing support of 33 of the Unicameral’s 49 lawmakers to get anything passed.

 Leading the charge in the Exec Board discussion of the proposed tax study, Legislative Bill 613, was Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, a Democrat who is looking hard at running for the job now held by Heineman, a Republican.

 Lathrop (as well as other senators on the committee) voiced concerns about including members of the Heineman Administration as ex-officio members of the tax study. Only state senators should be part of the study and not, for instance, the state tax administrator.

  The governor, Lathrop said, has “again” left the Legislature with a mess “because the executive branch came up with a proposal that wasn’t thought through.”

 Now, he said, “we’re trying to clean something up.”

 Lathrop didn’t specify about past “messes,” but you can hear complaints often in the Legislature that the governor is more than willing to let lawmakers do the heavy lifting on the state’s problems.

 Exec Board members also expressed concern that executive branch officials might stop cooperating with the Legislature’s study, so it was important to have supoena power to make sure they didn’t bug out. Ouch.

 The bottom line is that the tax study measure is going to need some more work and discussion between the Exec Board and the Revenue Committee, thus delaying progress on the issue.

 Chambers’ declaration would further delay things. His filibuster promise came in the early evening, after a marathon day of hearings in the Revenue Committee.

 As he closed on his proposal to rescind last year’s bill to allow cities to raise local sales taxes by a half-cent, he issued a warning to the Revenue Committee — better have 33 votes to pass any tax reforms.

 Those at the hearing felt that he was also talking about LB 613, which is just a bill for the tax study.

 That will just add to the complications in studying and agreeing on any major changes in state tax policy. 

* * *

 The tax study will mean that several proposed changes in state tax policy are put off until next year, pending the results of that study.

 But the winds may be changing for the prospects of passing a sales tax exemption to spur more wind energy development.

 Kearney Sen. Galen Hadley, the chairman of the Revenue Committee, said his gang may have to look at advancing some tax changes this year, and one in particular are the wind energy proposals.

 There is some urgency. The federal production tax credit for wind runs out at the end of this year, and wind-farm developers say they need to know this spring if Nebraska will join the likes of Kansas, Oklahoma and Iowa — three states that are kicking our rear ends in development of wind — in allowing a sales tax exemption for purchases of wind turbines and towers.