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With legislative session finally over, there are many accomplishments to discuss.
One of my major priorities for the 105th legislative session was to address workforce housing needs.
According to a Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce survey, nearly 70% of respondents indicated there is a housing shortage in their communities. Numerous housing studies have been conducted including Western Nebraska Economic Development in the Panhandle, Norfolk, Kearney, South Central Nebraska, and others. LB496 was a targeted piece of legislation created to address this need.
As an important tool, there are many benefits to this piece of legislation. It gives municipalities the ability to authorize tax-increment-financing, or TIF, for the construction of workforce housing.
TIF enhances development projects without making any changes to the property tax baseline. Any increase in property assessments come from the development project only, and are used to pay for the TIF assessment. It also broadens the tax base from the additional properties added once TIF projects are paid off. Average time to pay off TIF projects is typically 7.5 years, much lower than the 15 year cap. School districts’ tax base remains unchanged, along with other property tax entities.
TIF is an incredibly important tool. In rural communities and certain urban areas, there simply won’t be affordable housing constructed without incentive for developers. Unlike other areas of the country, the Midwest actually has more jobs than workers. In order for companies to fill those jobs, we need suitable housing available for workers to live and raise their families.
The Legislature has also addressed a number of important measures which will provide accountability and transparency to the process. Under LB496, public hearings for workforce housing incentive plans will be separate from the public hearings for TIF redevelopment plans. This should complement LB518, passed last year, which establishes the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act.
LB874, passed this year, adds additional safeguards to ensure TIF is used responsibly. It requires additional reporting on TIF projects to the Department of Revenue, provides for auditing of TIF projects and notice for public hearings, enhances record keeping processes, and strengthens the “but for” designation when establishing its necessity.
There were a number of other important items passed this year, including $200 million in budget adjustments. This is in addition to the $900 million budget deficit from last year, for a total biennial budget deficit of $1.1 billion.
Over the biennium, I introduced nineteen bills. One was withdrawn and four were procedural, effectively making fourteen in total. Out of those fourteen, nine were either passed outright or amended into other bills before passing.
LB803 will start the process for the Department of Education to provide waivers on early childhood education certification requirements to address workforce shortages in the industry, like the Head Start program being run by Educational Service Unit 13 in Scottsbluff. I would like to thank the Administrator Jeff West for bringing this issue to my attention and for all his hard work for Western Nebraska.
LB802 establishes industry best practices for administering ad revenues received by the Nebraska Tourism Commission. It creates a separate fund, which the Tourism Commission can administer to attract visitors to our state.
LB775 authorizes the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission to use Design Build for its construction and development projects. Design Build will save the state money by allowing the Commission to use more efficient methods of managing projects. It allows the Commission to hire a single managing contractor, instead of requiring it to manage each sub-contractor separately.
Finally, LB100 was signed into law by the Governor which will establish standards of proof for mental health boards when removing disqualifications on the possession of firearms for petitioners. Thank you to Dr. Thomas Perkins of Scottsbluff for his diligence and hard work for our community.
As always, I remain open to your feedback on how I may address the issues that mean most to you. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any questions you may have. Thank you to those who have taken the time to express their views on various issues. My contact information is located on the right hand side of this webpage.