May 23, 2015

Tax break advances even as lawmakers grumble

State legislators have advanced a break on personal property taxes.

But, it’s not much of a break in the eyes of some lawmakers.

In fact, debate on Legislative Bill 259 focused less on the bill and more on the overall lack of movement of property tax relief legislation.

Numerous lawmakers have complained that bills, such as one to lower the percentage of market value upon which agricultural land would be tax, haven’t gone anywhere this session, and likely won’t.

Sen. John McCollister of Omaha even complained about the approach, calling it piecemeal. He urged colleagues to broaden their approach to tax cuts.

“I believe Nebraska has a Whack-A-Mole tax policy,” McCollister said during floor debate. “Our efforts this year seem to be reactive and short-sighted.”

Still, lawmakers have advanced LB 259. The bill would exempt the first $10,000 in farm and business personal property from taxation.

Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango applauded approval of the bill, but said it really didn’t amount to much.

“We have not fixed the problem,” Hughes stated. “This is a step in the right direction, a baby step in the right direction. Serious property tax relief still needs to be tackled by this body and I applaud the members who are standing up and beginning to echo that chorus.”

A bit of humor entered the debate when Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins rose to ask Hughes, a dry bean farmer in western Nebraska, about his comments.

“Would you be willing to say that this doesn’t amount to a hill of dried beans?” Bloomfield asked.

“You know, that thought did cross my mind, but there are lines that I prefer not to cross when I’m at the mic,” Hughes responded.

“I’ll cheerfully push you across,” Bloomfield replied to laughter among senators.

The sponsor of LB 259, Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said that while his bill might not amount to much, it moves in the right direction.

“It’s taken us a long time to get to the point where things are out of whack and that the stool has different legs that are a little longer than others,” Gloor stated in reference to the three-legged stool of taxation metaphor often used at the Capitol. “It’s going to take bunts and singles. I don’t know that our budget is going to allow for us to have home runs, but I think this is one step in the right direction.”

Fifth-generation pop bottler takes over Nebraska’s top markets

ChestermanSioux City’s long-time Coca-Cola bottler is expanding its territory in both Nebraska and Iowa.

The Chesterman Company has signed a letter of intent with the Coca-Cola Company to assume a much wider distribution area in each state, including the Omaha and Lincoln markets.

CEO Cy Chesterman says it’s part of a 21st century partnership model Coca-Cola is implementing with its largest distributors.

“It’s a big deal for us, those are very big markets,” Chesterman says. “It’s really part of a broader scope of what the company is doing across the county.”

Chesterman has been a Coca-Cola bottler for five generations, beginning in 1904, and currently has more than 400 associates serving a territory of nearly one million people in parts of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Illinois.

The company’s corporate headquarters is in Sioux City and Chesterman says there will not be any change to their existing territories.

“We love doing business in Sioux City and it has been a great place for us,” Chesterman says.

He says a final agreement and transition probably won’t be completed until late 2016. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

By Woody Gottburg, KSCJ, Sioux City


NPPD announces coal-fire power plant conversion to hydrogen

Sheldon Power Plant/NPPD photo

Sheldon Power Plant/NPPD photo

It could be the fuel of the future.

Nebraska Public Power District has announced it is working with California-based Monolith Materials to replace a coal-fired unit in southeast Nebraska with a hydrogen-fueled plant.

NPPD Chief Executive Officer Pat Pope says Monolith Materials will use natural gas and electricity to create a substance called carbon black.

“Will eventually lead to near zero carbon emissions and Sheldon Station will become the first utility-scale power plant in the country to use hydrogen as a fuel,” according to Pope.

The new power plant will replace one of two coal-fired plants at the Sheldon Station near Hallam.

Gov. Pete Ricketts praises the project as a huge step forward in how electricity is produced in Nebraska.

“We here in Nebraska, with the welcoming of Monolith Materials, will be able to expand the types of products we produce here,” Ricketts says.

Monolith Materials co-founder, Rob Hanson, says the new plant will produce a substance called carbon black.

“We take natural gas. Natural gas is made up of carbon and hydrogen. We have technology which takes the carbon out in the form of carbon black. The hydrogen passes on and is going to be used by Sheldon Station to generate 125 megawatts of clean electricity,” according to Hanson.

Hanson says carbon black, a fine powder, is used in a number of products, such as tires, batteries, ink, electronics and plastics.

Hanson says the investment in southeast Nebraska will total in the “hundreds of millions” of dollars, creating 100 new direct jobs and as many as 600 indirect jobs. He says the company began looking at sites across the U.S. over the past 18 months, narrowing sites to Nebraska, Texas, Iowa, Wyoming, Washington State, New York, Louisiana and Alberta, Canada.

Hanson says the plant should begin producing carbon black by next year with full hydrogen fuel operations slated to begin in 2019.

Doug Kennedy, KWBE, contributed to this report.

Gov. Ricketts will lead first trade mission to the EU

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts has announced he will lead a trade mission to Europe.

The governor, along with state agriculture and economic development officials, will travel to Denmark, Belgium, and Italy in June.

Ricketts says one of the big stops on the trip will be to the European food show in Milan, Italy. Another major stop will be in Denmark to speak with officials of Danish biotechnology firm Novozymes.

“We’ve got the opportunity with the Milan trade show to be able to highlight Nebraska agricultural products, building upon this agri-business hub that the Omaha chamber study released that said we should build on that momentum; working with companies like Novozymes to try to get them to expand here in Nebraska,” according to Ricketts.

Novozymes invested $200 million to build a production facility on the Cargill biorefinery campus in the Omaha area.

Ricketts says the European Union holds promise for Nebraska on a number of different fronts, especially in agriculture and agri-business.

The trade mission will run from June 7th through the 15th. It is being organized by both the Nebraska Departments of Economic Development and Agriculture. DED will coordinate the Italy and Denmark stops, while NDA will be responsible for the Belgium activities, according to the governor’s office.

The governor’s office reports Nebraska exported roughly $900 million worth of goods to European Union countries in 2014. Agricultural trade dominated, making up about half that figure. Key Nebraska exports to Europe include machinery, pharmaceuticals, medicines, beef, soybeans and soymeal, and other feeds/fodders.

Ricketts says he hopes to lead two trade missions each year.

Nebraska businesses optimistic about next six months

Nebraska business owners and executives tell a University of Nebraska survey they’re optimistic about the next few months.

Bureau of Business Research Director Eric Thompson with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reports on the latest survey of business attitudes about the next six months.

“Nebraska businesses have positive expectations for sales, but they continue to have very strong expectations for adding employment,” Thompson tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “This suggests that this will be a good year in terms of job growth in Nebraska.”

One in five respondents to the March Survey of Nebraska Business expects to add employees over the next six months. Only four percent expect to cut jobs.

Half the respondents expect steady sales growth. Only 22% expect sales to go down. The sales outlook improved from the results in January and February.

The surveys are sent each month to 500 randomly selected Nebraska businesses. In March, 145 businesses responded.

One segment of the economy is holding Nebraska back: agriculture.

Crop prices have declined, according to Thompson, hurting farmers financially as well as the businesses which rely on farm sales. The slump is evident in the survey results.

“The larger cities, especially the Omaha area, but also Lincoln, there’s relatively positive outlook and in the more rural areas of the state, businesses have more moderate expectations,” according to Thompson.

For more on the survey, click here.

Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this report.