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'This is long term thinking': Nebraska Bill dedicating more than $300 million to Omaha advances

Posted at 7:08 PM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 20:30:09-04

It's an investment that is seemingly unprecedented — $433 million dollars — much of which is going to North Omaha; a neighborhood that for decades dealt with redlining, racism and lack of economic opportunity.

“What we’re attempting to do here is infuse opportunity into our districts, so a good number of our people aren’t disproportionately represented in our criminal justice system,” said Sen. Terrell McKinney.

The plan also calls for at least $55 million to be spent in South Omaha.

“The way to change this is by creating economic opportunity, investing in communities, investing in economic development, in jobs, in centers will people will work and want to live,” said Sen. Tony Vargas, who represents portions of South Omaha.

This money is going to a wide variety of areas. It lists affordable housing, small business assistance, job training and business development.

It also earmarks money for a business park near Eppley Airfield, a film on Chief Standing Bear shot in Nebraska, and money for innovation hubs in North Omaha.

“Building around, how do we make sure we are the entrepreneur 'mecca in the Midwest,' and how we can support small businesses in a different way,” said Wayne.

North and South Omaha is slated for more than $300 million dollars in the bill and that money largely comes from federal dollars allotted in the American Rescue Plan, passed in 2021.

The state is also adding $55 million from cash reserves and $30 million from the general fund. Wayne also said he believes Douglas County and the City of Omaha will kick in additional dollars.

But Wayne also got creative to bring more money into the package.

The bill uses coronavirus relief funds, which were also in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), and spreads it across the state.

“I just try and make it fair for everybody,” said Wayne.

That money was originally slated to be used on rural broadband, and lawmakers are aiming to ensure that still happens when and if the bill is passed.

“I still want to see the majority of that money go to rural broadband,” said Sen. Curt Friesen, who chairs the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee.

Despite a session filled with personal attacks, and visible frustration from Wayne on funding the bill, a compromise has been seemingly reached. It was lauded Thursday as an example of what can be done in the Legislature.

“This is not short-term thinking, this is long-term thinking, multi-year, thoughtful, strategic thinking. People talk about why is everything zero-sum. I win. You Lose. This is not that!” said Hilgers.

If passed one more time on Final Reading and signed by Gov. Ricketts, a special committee will be formed that would spend all this money.

$135 million is being held until at least next year and the legislature will then gauge how the money is being spent before they spend the rest of the money.

“This is the scariest thing I ever did. Because we get this type of money — and this type of money and this type of investment in North Omaha — if we fail, this body will never, ever give us a second chance,” said Wayne.

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