By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN — A Nebraska lawmaker wants the state Legislature to start talking about the annual reports the state revenue department compiles on economic development incentives — as opposed to letting the reports collect dust.
Columbus Sen. Paul Schumacher introduced legislation that would expand upon the current law requiring the Department of Revenue to compile annual reports on the state’s tax incentives. The bill would have the Revenue and Appropriations committees sit down and talk about the reports to determine whether the incentive programs are working, should be tweaked or ended.
Schumacher said the data need “the give and take of an open public meeting.” The bill would allow senators to request more information if needed.
“We’d like to get a handle on these numbers,” he said. The state might not be in the position it’s in today, he said, noting that Nebraska spends up to $235,000 per job in incentives — far more than expected.
“Quite frankly we need to have answers to that,” he said.
Renee Fry, executive director of a nonpartisan think tank called OpenSky Policy Institute, said Schumacher’s bill would improve the transparency of Nebraska’s incentives. She said the DOR incentive reports are confusing and the numbers change without explanation.
Several national reports have come out in the past year on the ballooning cost of incentive programs nationwide, Fry said. She said 24 states have established commissions to review incentives. Nebraska has been criticized for failing to draw conclusions from its annual reports, she said.
There is talk of reforming the economic development programs in the wake of those national reports and a recent performance audit that said Nebraska does not have goals or spending caps on its tax incentive programs.
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