Bill to boost funding for industrial rail-parks faces no opposition in public hearing
State Sen. Mike Groene’s follow-up bills to two of his eight-year tenure’s most notable measures both received strong support in separate Unicameral hearings Tuesday.
No one opposed either Legislative Bill 788, which would fully fund Groene’s 2021 law authorizing state matching funds for industrial “rail parks,” or LB 1065, which would refine his 2020 “microTIF” law.
Groene’s original bills on both topics each won final legislative approval with rare unanimous 49-0 votes.
Those bills and their sequels “address long-held concerns from the citizens of Nebraska, those being growing rural Nebraska and workforce housing,” Groene said after the hearings.
LB 788, his latest rail-park bill, would boost the program’s funding from $10 million over two years to the full $50 million envisioned in Groene’s first bill, LB 40.
That would allow the proposed Lincoln County rail park outside Hershey to more quickly collect the maximum $30 million local project leaders applied for Jan. 3, the North Platte lawmaker said.
His new measure also would turn LB 40’s $50 million ceiling into a floor, allowing senators to add more funds to the program if they chose, Groene told the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.
Smaller industries, especially in the agribusiness field, are “already anxiously waiting to come to Nebraska and grow rural Nebraska,” he said.
“Rail service is as critical to the manufacturing and warehousing industry as good roads are to any economy.”
If lawmakers approve LB 788, individual rail-park projects already approved for matching funds also could receive up to 60% of additional funds beyond $50 million.
LB 40 lets approved projects receive $2 of state funds for every locally raised dollar up to $2.5 million. That rises to $5 per locally raised dollar beyond the initial $2.5 million.
Two North Platte leaders joined Groene not only in urging backing for LB 788 but also in welcoming the rail-park program’s reception across the state.
Blair, Fremont, Grand Island and Seward joined North Platte in rapidly submitting matching-fund applications when the Nebraska Department of Economic Development started taking them Jan. 3, Groene said.
When he introduced LB 40 last winter, “we did not expect the overwhelming interest that communities with railroad heritages would have,” he told committee members.
Representatives of the other four cities chimed in to support LB 788, some of them also speaking on behalf of groups such as the Nebraska and Greater Omaha chambers of commerce.
They echoed the North Platte delegation in saying their cities can’t compete with others outside Nebraska that can move faster to land manufacturers that fit rural areas.
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