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'MicroTIF' could pass if filibusters over other issues don't run out Unicam's clock
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'MicroTIF' could pass if filibusters over other issues don't run out Unicam's clock

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State Sen. Mike Groene’s “microTIF” bill appeared Monday to have strong prospects for eventual passage — if ongoing filibusters over other issues don’t run out the Legislature’s clock first.

Lawmakers spent most of the morning debating Legislative Bill 1021, Groene’s proposal to let owners of older homes and business buildings receive partial tax refunds for fixing them up.

Senators moved on to other business after lunch after Omaha and Lincoln lawmakers upset by inaction on COVID-19 and racial justice issues vowed they’d take LB 1021’s first-round debate to its eventual eight-hour limit.

Even as they did so, however, several said they either support the North Platte lawmaker’s bill outright or at least would vote to cut off debate and advance it once they used up their maximum time.

Urban Affairs Committee members revised and unanimously backed LB 1021 “because it would benefit the communities that Sen. Groene is trying to help,” said Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, the committee’s chairman.

Even Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, in the midst of one of the last filibusters of his nearly 50-year Unicameral career, told Groene he expects to vote for LB 1021 in the end.

“I want to assure Sen. Groene that no matter how irritated I get, I’m not going to do anything to harm your bill ... though I have some concerns about how it might be used,” he said.

Senators are scheduled to resume first-round debate on LB 1021 Tuesday. Six lawmaking days remain in the two-year life of the 106th Legislature, which reconvened July 20 after adjourning for four months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The “microTIF” bill has to receive first-round approval no later than Thursday, the 57th day of the 60-day “short session,” to have a chance for passage by its last scheduled day Aug. 13.

Wayne’s Urban Affairs Committee voted 7-0 July 29 to advance LB 1021 after his staff and Groene’s devised an amendment addressing practical issues raised at its February public hearing.

If senators adopt the committee amendment, microTIF wouldn’t be available in Douglas, Lancaster or Sarpy counties but otherwise would work much as outlined in Groene’s original draft.

Owners of an existing structure at least 60 years old who choose to fix up or replace it could recover all or part of the property taxes generated by increases in its taxable value, much as with “regular” tax increment financing.

Such structures would have to be inside areas that a city or village has declared “substandard and blighted,” the ordinary standard for TIF.

Each microTIF project could involve only one building, and its owners would have two years to finish their planned work to collect refunds. Those would last for no more than 10 years, compared with 15 for regular TIF.

The property’s estimated taxable value at that point could be no more than $250,000 for single-family homes, $1 million for a multifamily or commercial structure or $10 million for a building on the National Register of Historic Places.

Groene said during first-round debate that LB 1021’s concept hearkens back to the original 1970s vision of how to revitalize aging neighborhoods when Nebraska voters authorized TIF in a 1978 constitutional amendment.

Instead, he said the Legislature of that time “turned TIF into an economic development program where we incentivize developers to build where they were going to build anyway — on the interstate.”

LB 1021 attacks the problem “one little house at a time,” he said, by giving the owners of lower-valued older homes a better chance to afford to fix them up.

“People don’t want people to live in unsavory housing,” he said. But for those homeowners, “it’s an economic decision. You’ve got to be able to pay the bills.”

He fielded questions on LB 1021’s workings from urban and rural senators alike, but all who spoke said they favor passing the bill as amended.

“The people can get involved more” in improving their community “instead of a government board getting involved in putting TIF on green land,” said Sen. Ben Hansen, a former Blair city councilman.

Some liberal lawmakers, such as Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, took the unusual step of first declaring their support for LB 1021 before renewing their biting criticism of conservative colleagues.

They’ve extended debate on a variety of bills — including their own — with the declared intent of highlighting COVID-19’s impact on Nebraskans of color and persistent racism after George Floyd’s May 25 death in Minneapolis police custody.

That followed failures by some Omaha and Lincoln lawmakers to gain enough votes for such proposals as protecting renters from eviction and directing federal COVID-19 funds toward poor Nebraskans.

“We are going on as if an entire pandemic or an entire protest about (racial) justice hasn’t happened since we were last here,” Pansing Brooks said.

Wayne said LB 1021 wouldn’t even have a chance of passage had his committee not concluded it could help non-urban Nebraskans who own older homes.

Both rural and urban owners of older homes were included in Groene’s original draft. Omaha and Lincoln testifiers showed sympathy for LB 1021 at February’s hearing but pointed out roadblocks for making it work in the state’s two largest cities.

During the long COVID-19 recess, Wayne said, his legislative staff “spent a lot of time to get this bill to a place where it works for small communities (though) it’s unworkable for the larger ones.”

But rural Nebraskans need to start realizing they face many of the same issues as their urban counterparts, said Wayne, whose racially diverse District 13 includes working-class Florence and richer Ponca Hills in northeast Omaha.

“We can’t spend the time addressing rural and helping rural (needs) when we don’t get the same consideration for our communities,” he said.

“You’ve got some place to go eat. You’ve got some place to go sleep,” added Chambers, whose Black-majority District 11 sits just south of Wayne’s. “I’m thinking about those people who have neither.”

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