By Nathan Beacom, former staff member
Elected representatives in Nebraska will debate a host of issues during the 2021 legislative session, including budget and tax, economic development, energy and environment, family and economic security, and food and agriculture.
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Property tax is a top priority. Recognizing the impact of unpredictable revenues, unsustainable property taxes, and poorly-timed income tax proposals, the Center will advocate for new revenue streams to help meet the state’s obligations.
In 2020, we saw the passage of LB 1107, a compromise bill which included property tax relief in the form of a refundable state income tax credit, a new tax-incentive program for businesses, and funds dedicated to new development at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. This bill achieves property tax relief by promising a $125 million refundable state income tax credit for school property taxes paid.
In 2021, we will continue to defend against cuts to education and other social services important to low-income individuals. LB 1107 does not settle every question, and some legislators have expressed concerns about budget shortfalls if the bill is not amended. We expect continued debate over this tax plan, and will advocate for changes that ensure rural schools and other essential services are properly funded.
The Center is dedicated to ensuring rural families have access to essential goods and services. Our priority is to help struggling rural families get back on their feet and to ensure they have the support to do so in uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for public assistance in rural Nebraska.
The Center will advocate for policies that remove barriers to access SNAP and WIC benefits for those who need them, in particular by addressing the “cliff effect,” where benefits phase out before income grows enough to compensate for lost benefits. In late 2020, the Center advocated for a reversal of the governor’s decision to refuse emergency federal SNAP funding. In early November, the governor reversed his decision. Senators will explore options to ensure similar opportunities are utilized in the future.
We will look for ways to support existing programs, like Farm to School and Double Up Food Bucks that both support our hungry families and our small farmers. In the last session, a bill was introduced to fund a new position for managing the Double Up Food Bucks program. We have reason to believe it will come before the Legislature again this session. We also anticipate legislation to add one full-time employee to the state department of agriculture to manage Farm to School.
In addition, we will advocate for the proper implementation of Medicaid expansion and for policies that remove barriers to access medical care in rural communities. In 2020, Medicaid expansion implementation began, an ongoing process requiring further attention and oversight.
LB 1107 included the ImagiNE Nebraska Act, meant to replace the Nebraska Advantage Act to incentivize economic development in our state. However, this program contains few small business incentives. Meanwhile, the current small business incentive program, the Microenterprise Tax Credit, remains under assault. A bill to repeal this credit advanced to General File in 2020 but was not debated. Last session also saw the passage of the Center’s broadband legislation, as well as an omnibus bill introduced by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.
In 2021, legislation will be developed by the Center to improve the Nebraska Microenterprise Tax Credit. We will also be prepared to defend against efforts to repeal. Staff will track broadband development proposals and work to ensure progress continues across the state.
The Center maintains energy and climate change as top priorities, with a particular focus on adopting fair and balanced standards and defending against efforts to limit renewable development.
We will continue to lead the Clean Energy Nebraska group, a coalition of organizations focused on clean energy adoption and action on climate change. Center staff will also focus on addressing key energy and climate issues through research and analysis that can support our own efforts as well as those of our partners.
We support policy that expands economic opportunity for communities through clean energy development. We are also committed to advocating in support of action to address climate change.
The Center is committed to the family farmer and to small businesses in rural communities as well as to worker safety. Our priority is to advocate for small family businesses and thereby to strengthen the local economy. We will advocate for farm policies that promote local and regional markets, the responsible use of the land, and worker safety.
In the wake of disruptions to the meat sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are particularly focused on finding ways to make changes to the meat supply chain by promoting small processing businesses.
In addition, we are monitoring the effort to ensure meatpacking worker safety. In preparation for the coming session, we will help author a bill meant to pare back regulations that prohibit direct-to-consumer sales. We also expect the introduction of a bill on the creation of a state meat inspection program.
We will advocate for legislation that will remove unnecessary regulations and enable small meatpackers to expand their operations and markets. We support installing a state meat inspection program. We will support efforts to ensure worker safety in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.