Drama over: Nebraska governor signs bill on wind energy tax breaks

Source: By Paul Hammel / World-Herald Bureau • Posted: Wednesday, June 5, 2013

LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman took much of the drama out of the final day of the 2013 state legislative session, signing into law Tuesday a bill granting new tax breaks for wind energy development.

That move leaves only a final vote on a couple of noncontroversial bills and some nonbinding resolutions for the final day of the 90-day session Wednesday.

Heineman announced Tuesday morning that he had signed 33 bills into law, but left four measures, including the wind bill, unsigned until late afternoon.

The governor said he signed the wind measure, Legislative Bill 104, only because it included an amendment to prevent a half-cent increase in local sales taxes in Omaha.

Heineman said that if he had line-item veto power over such bills, he would have removed the “special” sales tax break on wind-farm components. The provision applies to turbines, blades and towers for wind farms that invest $20 million or more.

“The most important issue in this bill is to protect Omaha taxpayers from a sales tax increase,” Heineman said in a press release. “As I said earlier, I do not favor the part of this bill that provides a Kansas company a special tax break, when the Legislature didn’t provide new, significant tax relief to Nebraskans.”

A Kansas company, TradeWind Energy, has said it’s ready to build a $300 million to $400 million wind farm in northeast Nebraska if it can obtain the sales tax break. That is an incentive already offered in states like Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma that have far outpaced Nebraska in wind energy development.

State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, the prime sponsor of LB 104, said he believes the measure will even the playing field for Nebraska in attracting wind farms.

He disagreed with Heineman’s criticism that the new tax break represents “corporate welfare.” LB 104 is an addition to the state’s main job incentive program, the Nebraska Advantage Act, which provides tax breaks for companies that create jobs and reach certain investment benchmarks.

“The whole point of our Advantage Act is to encourage companies to come into Nebraska and do business,” Lathrop said. “It is perfectly consistent with what we’ve done with our business incentives.”

The senator added that other wind farms will follow TradeWind’s project, and that they will create more long-term jobs than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and have economic benefits for rural areas.

LB 104 would also offer tax breaks for other renewable energy development, including projects involving solar, geothermal and hydroelectric power.

Heineman also signed into law Tuesday afternoon a bill that provides salary increases for Nebraska judges and makes changes to the judges’ retirement plan.

Among the measures signed earlier Tuesday was one that expands child care subsidies to more working families and creates a state rating system for child care centers.

Another bill allows the Nebraska State Patrol to hire six new troopers, and requires that at least six troopers be assigned to liquor license compliance.