Omaha city lobbyist gearing up for Nebraska Legislative session

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December 4th, 2015

Omaha, NE – As the lobbyist for the state’s largest city, Jack Cheloha does not have an easy job.

“It’s kind of a double edged sword if you will. It’s pro in the sense that I only have one client,” Cheloha says. “I never have look at myself and say I have a conflict of interest. My interest is the city of Omaha. It’s elected people make the decisions and I represent our citizens before the Unicameral.”

Jack Cheloha Lobbyist for the city of Omaha – represents the city, the city council and the mayor dealing with state issues before the state legislature. (Courtesy Photo Nebraska Bar Association)

Jack Cheloha Lobbyist for the city of Omaha – represents the city, the city council and the mayor dealing with state issues before the state legislature. (Courtesy Photo Nebraska Bar Association)

Cheloha is a busy man. From meetings with the City Council to conferences with Omaha mayor Jean Stothert – his schedule is full. When the Nebraska Legislature is in session his schedule is even more crowded.

Cheloha says after 21 years of lobbying for the city, he’s learned two things.

On the surface…

“We’re nothing more than well-dressed beggars.”

But delve a little deeper, and Cheloha says it’s a bit more complex.

“Really my job as lobbyist is to approach the elected decision makers and give them a persuasive argument for the position Omaha takes.”

For instance, say there’s a bill on the floor of the Unicameral that could have an impact on Omaha and its residents, Cheloha will spend time speaking with state senators and letting them know where Omaha stands on the issue.

“Really what we’re trained to do is be persuasive. Basically you’re trying to either give a persuasive speech or comment in order to move legislation or to stop legislation.”

Cheloha says some days are all about finding a proper balance between Nebraska’s urban and rural residents. To illustrate his point, he tells a story of a time when a rural senator came up to him one day in the state capital:

“He put his arm around me said ‘Jack, I think if we just carved of circle around Omaha and gave you to Iowa we could reduce our crime rate substantially.’ And I said ‘Senator, I think you have a point there that’s probably true be of the same time if you did give a lot of Iowa why you would lose all of our tax revenue.”

Cheloha works directly with the mayor and the Omaha city council to set an agenda for the upcoming legislative sessions. He says the mayor and council see eye to eye on most state legislative matters.

For the 2016 legislative cycle, that includes dealing with the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle which is threatening to destroy thousands of trees in Omaha.

“(The goal is) to least help deal with prevention but likewise some cleanup as well if trees are determined not to be savable if you will.”

Also on the agenda is renewing state aid to municipalities through Tax Increment Financing or TIF. TIF is an economic development tool used by cities to rebate property taxes. Cheloha says Omaha uses TIF vigorously, and even though it’s somewhat controversial in the legislature, he’s been instructed to lobby lawmakers to create a sales tax type of TIF which might be useable for redevelopment at the Crossroads Mall.

“Back in 2011 when the state was having been tough economic times that money source or revenue source was flat out discontinued to cities. So we’ve been without it now for three and a half years we’d like to see that reinstated.”

Cheloha will once again put his lobbying skills to the test next month, when the 2016 Legislative cycle begins.

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