Nebraska Chamber of Commerce holds 2019 Legislative Forum in Cozad

Senator Matt Williams speaks about the progress and challenges of the 2019 legislative session during the state chamber Legislative Forum.

COZAD — Legislative bills, property taxes, and the future for Nebraska is only a short list of topics discussed at the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce 2019 Legislative Forum.

Held at Paulsen’s training center on Friday, the forum featured presentations from state chamber members and Senator Matt Williams.

State chamber Executive Vice President Kristen Hassebrook spoke about the 2019 legislative session and highlighted what topics were addressed and those which were not.

Issues addressed included online sales tax collection, 1031 business equipment fix, medical marijuana employer amendment, increasing funding to property tax credit fund and a second hearing for local governments to collect more property taxes.

Items not addressed included the big one, property tax reform, as well as statewide economic development incentives, school funding formula, prison reform and Medicaid expansion.

Hassebrook said broad based structural tax reform, “is a must,” for Nebraska businesses and will set up the tax code for the state for the next 50-100 years.

The state chamber already has its eyes on the 2020 legislative session and hope to see a measured tax bill, business incentives and immediate Blueprint Nebraska initiatives implemented. Looking even further forward, the chamber will advocate for broad-based structural tax reform, workforce programs and long term Blueprint initiatives.

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce advocates and lobbies for Nebraska businesses and seeks to influence policy in the favor of state businesses. They represent over 1,000 companies with 330,000 employees.

The presentation shifted to Blueprint Nebraska, a nonprofit organization seeking to create 25,000 jobs, bring in 43,000 18-34 year olds and increase investment in research and development to $200 million.

State chamber Vice President – Public Affairs and Policy Holley Salmi presented the organizations roots and goals. In an effort to grow Nebraska, Blueprint was founded and headed by a 21 person steering committee. They had a public input process to determine the best polices to put in place for the future of the state.

The strengths of the state were determined to be the people, the land and the location.

“These assets have always provided a foundation for Nebraska’s success. Today, challenges, especially people-related challenges, threaten our ability to sustain this success,” according to Blueprint information.

Blueprint Nebraska spelled out the reasons for the states strengths,

People:

• Pragmatism, work ethic and ingenuity

• Strong educational systems

• Durable workforce

• Strong reliant communities.

Land:

• Unmatched natural resources and geography

• Robust agricultural economy

• Strong and efficient agricultural production rates

Location:

• Natural business hub for country

• Strong transportation networks

• Proper infrastructure design, condition and funding.

Salmi said Nebraskans are “very resilient,” especially in the face of the challenges of 2019, flooding catching the most headlines.

However, the state is facing challenges moving into the future, Nebraska was ranked 33rd nationally in 2018 net domestic migration into the state. The cornhusker state also is in the middle of the pack of peer states when it came to employment growth and gross domestic product, GDP.

Economic signals such as business research and development, startup density, rate of start-up growth, and start up early survival rates in the state are lacking.

Yet the state has opportunities to improve productivity to move forward into the future. Blueprint Nebraska laid out several levers to accomplish this, expand the share of the most productive sectors and industries, as well as increase innovation and wage in each industry.

Blueprint Nebraska has five aspirations,

• Become the leading peer states in overall job growth

• Lead peer states in quality of life ranking

• Build the 18-34 population

• Create high paying jobs in high growth sectors

• Accelerate research and development investment.

“Blueprint Nebraska is not something which is designed to sit on a shelf,” Salmi said, “it is something Nebraska needs to get behind, it’s not just a legislative question.”

Senator Matt Williams spoke to those present about the 2019 legislative session. “Every session starts with great anticipation and excitement, and then reality sets in,” Williams said.

He said this last session there were 739 bills introduced and over 200 were passed. Williams himself brought 11 bills to the floor, 10 of which were passed and one is still in waiting.

Property taxes and economic development are the most important issues the legislature needs to tackle, Williams said. Speak of the challenges the state faces, he said there needs to be increases all across the board.

Williams also mentioned the “Nebraska Advantage,” microenterprise tax credit program sunsets in 2020 and currently the state does not have a replacement, but it is something the legislature will be working on.

While some state senators question business incentives, Williams supports them. He said all the states Nebraska competes against have similar incentives and it provides a tool to bring new businesses to the state.

When it comes to tax reform, Williams said it is, “tricky,” as there are multiple stakeholders with a vested interest in reform going their way. Williams said the state needs to reach a point of compromise between the different groups.

The executive branch also plays a role, Williams said Governor Pete Ricketts will not increase taxes on one group to relieve another.

Medicaid reimbursements, especially those which affect the state’s nursing homes, is a point of concern for Williams. Just in the last year, 15 nursing homes across the state closed, many of them in communities which desperately need this service. This especially impacts rural areas, which contains a larger aging population, said Williams.

Housing presents an issue when trying to bring people to the state, “the lack of workforce housing is staggering,” Williams said.

Despite the challenges, Williams said he is honored to be representing the 36th district in 2020.

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