It’s time to cite the old saw that politics is “the art of the possible.”
If state senators don’t learn that lesson soon, rural Nebraskans likely can kiss their hopes for property tax relief goodbye.
The Legislature left Thursday for a four-day recess with Omaha lawmakers angry at their rural colleagues and vowing to block progress on tax relief, income-based ag land valuation and other matters high on our region’s agenda.
Several bills important to their districts are wrapped up in the hostility. The one that started the trouble, however, involves those three troublesome letters: TIF.
And when tax increment financing is at issue, some of our local senators inevitably become aroused.
District 13 Sen. Justin Wayne offered a constitutional amendment to give developers of TIF projects in “extremely blighted” areas 20 years, rather than the current 15, to recoup their infrastructure costs from their projects’ increases in taxable value.
Senators last year enabled the “extremely blighted” designation, which applies to federal census tracts with poverty rates of 20 percent or more and unemployment at least twice the average statewide rate.
That definition applies to much of Wayne’s district, which borders Sen. Ernie Chambers’ largely African-American District 11. District 13 includes the Florence neighborhood and other poor and multiracial parts of far north and northeast Omaha.
If west central Nebraskans were to talk to folks in those two districts, they’d hear many similar complaints about being ignored or belittled by Omahans west of 72nd Street and in the suburbs of Sarpy County.
In other words, these are Omahans whose lawmakers could help us get the property tax relief rural and small-town Nebraskans need (in part because they could use it, too).
But, well, TIF ...
Wayne’s would-be amendment (LR 14CA) was talked into oblivion. After three hours of debate, Speaker Jim Scheer pulled it from the agenda, unlikely to return this session.
Because TIF was involved, Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte joined the lineup of debaters opposing Wayne’s measure. In retaliation, Wayne has borrowed a page from Chambers’ well-worn tactical book.
He has introduced a flurry of floor amendments to several of Groene’s bills — some facetious, others more serious, all intended to run out the clock on student discipline, NCORPE changes and such.
Wayne, who is biracial, has attributed racial motivations to last week’s broader rural opposition to Omaha lawmakers’ agendas.
We cannot see inside people’s heads. All we will say is that all human beings, regardless of their external and internal differences, are fully capable of that inexcusable failing.
In regard to our own senator and the TIF bill, though, Wayne’s racism charge seems extreme.
We don’t see TIF the way Groene does. But from various accounts of last week’s floor debate, Groene said nothing about TIF that he doesn’t regularly utter whenever he opposes TIF projects in North Platte, Lincoln County or anywhere in Nebraska.
In other words, Sen. Wayne, you’re in good company.
Groene, not to mention the rest of our western Nebraska senators, has worked diligently and well on the issues on which our small towns, farmers and ranchers absolutely need progress to improve our economic fortunes.
Last week’s developments, however, may have put all that good work in peril. We’re concerned by another Groene comment during the TIF debate, as reported Thursday by NET Nebraska:
“We are not a support group, folks, where we all bring our cause here, and we all meet in a room and a circle of chairs and say ‘I have to have this,’ and we all nod and we all agree and we all vote for each other’s bill. That isn’t how it works here.”
Actually, Senator, that’s how it has typically worked in the Unicameral, albeit in 50 State Capitol offices (including the governor’s) rather than one.
So we come back to “the art of the possible.”
The Revenue Committee, on which Groene sits, has yet to advance its property tax relief package. It’ll need 33 of the 49 senators’ votes to survive a filibuster. At least 30 of those votes must hold to override an almost certain veto from the governor.
Some of those votes must come from Omaha. Everyone knows it.
Wayne, who heretofore has shown a remarkable ability to bring people together, could be a vital ally in convincing Omahans who routinely think nothing outside Omaha really matters.
If it isn’t too late after last week, that is. We hope, for the sake of our region, that it isn’t.