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While a band of rural senators is working to tightly tie the fate of a new business investment tax credit program to efforts to gain substantial property tax relief, Sen. Mark Kolterman has moved to put a little distance between those two major legislative proposals.
In the end, he suggests, there will be additional property tax relief and a modernized business investment program, plus a legislative funding commitment to a blockbuster new project at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Kolterman, the quiet-spoken and collegial senator from Seward, is the sponsor of the latter two big-ticket proposals and will be a key legislative figure in the days that lie ahead.
While he says he has reached agreement with Revenue Committee Chairwoman Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn that a series of substantial amendments to the business incentives bill already agreed to by the committee will not move to the floor of the Legislature until senators reach a property tax relief decision, Linehan notes that the proposals will begin to move in tandem at second-stage floor consideration.
That depends on whether the committee’s property tax relief and school aid reform package (LB974) clears first-stage floor debate. It currently is on hold while Linehan attempts to negotiate concerns raised largely by big-city school districts.
If those concerns are addressed, Linehan will then need to convince Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk that she can garner the 33 votes required to eventually disarm a filibuster in order to at least proceed with the bill.
Linehan believes she can do that.
The business incentives bill (LB720) sits at second-stage floor consideration, where it was blocked in the final days of the 2019 legislative session by rural senators seeking action on substantial property tax relief.
Joining this cluster of major decisions is the blockbuster $2.6 billion proposal (LB1084) to build a new center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center that would respond to national health threats and crises, Kolterman said.
That plan includes a $300 million state funding commitment and the promise of at least $300 million in private donor support.
Thirty-two senators have co-signed onto that bill now, Kolterman noted.
“It will be merged into LB720, and it will pass this session,” he said. “Our commitment will be there.
“Everyone knows we have to have some sort of business tax incentives plan,” Kolterman suggested.
And in the end, he said, “we’ll have property tax relief” along with the new business tax incentives plan and the bold state commitment to help fund the UNMC plan.
The state’s current business tax incentives program expires at the end of the year.
“The new Imagine Nebraska Act is so much better,” Kolterman said. “And we’re ready to go.”
The original proposal will be broadened to include provisions to “help us grow rural Nebraska,” he said. Those changes resulted from negotiations with rural senators and rural manufacturers.
As the Legislature grapples with the challenge of property tax reduction now, Kolterman said, “we’ll wait our turn.”
The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry chose Kolterman to shepherd the new tax incentives bill, and University of Nebraska Medical Center Chancellor Jeffrey Gold asked him to lead the way on its groundbreaking project.
“I’m a little nervous,” Kolterman admitted, “and somewhat humbled that they chose me.
“When I came to Lincoln, it was not because of issues,” he said.
“I came down to be a representative of the 24th District, and I have tried to build relationships (with) individual senators and the lobby” in order to be effective, he said.
“I am willing to listen to both sides,” he said. “I try to get along with everybody.
“And I don’t like to lose,” he added.
Perhaps the most visible example of Kolterman’s positive chemistry with fellow senators is the challenging and kidding exchanges he sometimes has with Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha during floor debate as they prod one another from opposite sides of the legislative chamber.
“He and I have a great relationship,” Kolterman said. “I sat by him for the first two years. I asked to do that. I wanted to learn.
“The longer you are here,” he said, “the more you learn.”
When Chamber of Commerce President Bryan Slone told Kolterman that he might ask him to carry the business incentives package through the legislative process, Kolterman said he told him: “I’ll think about that. I’m not real good on the mic. But I can get it done.
“I said OK just before the (2019) legislative session started. And it’s been a lot of fun. It’s a work in progress.”
Gold came to him, he said, because he had developed “a really strong relationship” with the chancellor and with the Medical Center during Kolterman’s wife’s 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Suzanne Kolterman died in November 2017.
“We’ve got to get this done,” Kolterman said.