Controlling Spending for Property Tax Relief
By Governor Pete Ricketts
March 1, 2021
Governor’s official photo here.
March 6th marks one year since the first positive case of coronavirus was confirmed in Nebraska. Over the past year, it’s been an all-hands-on-deck effort to protect hospital capacity, support our healthcare workers, and help keep Nebraskans healthy. We continue to see encouraging trends in our fight against the coronavirus. During the past week, the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations has been at its lowest point in over six months. And by the latest measures, over a quarter-million Nebraskans have now received their initial dose of vaccine.
Throughout the pandemic, Nebraska has struck a balance between slowing the spread of the virus, while helping people lead a more normal life. We kept businesses open instead of imposing a strict lockdown. We engaged faith communities to find ways for them to join together and worship. We worked hard to put protocols in place so that students could return to school. These efforts helped people stay connected, while minimizing disruptions to Nebraskans’ livelihoods and educations.
Through it all, we’ve been working to grow opportunities and keep our state moving forward. We’ve created an environment where existing businesses like Scoular and Becton Dickinson have chosen to expand and where major companies like Amazon have made new investments. We’ve also made it possible for Main Street to thrive, ranking among the best states in America for small business performance during 2020. These successes have helped us achieve the nation’s lowest unemployment rate for five months in a row.
According to the University of Nebraska Bureau of Business Research (NU-BBR), the future looks bright. On February 24th, NU-BBR reported that Nebraska’s leading economic indicator—which predicts near-term trends—has risen for the fourth consecutive month. “The rising indicator provides another signal that economic growth will be solid in Nebraska through mid-2021,” said Dr. Eric Thompson, director of NU-BBR. Dr. Thompson relayed encouraging data from state businesses, noting that “respondents to the January Survey of Nebraska Business reported plans to expand sales and employment over the next six months.”
Nebraska’s economy continues to deliver great opportunities in the midst of the pandemic, resulting in strong tax revenues. Last Friday, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board voted to increase the State’s projected revenues by $462 million. The increased forecast gives the State the opportunity to continue controlling spending, so we can deliver even more property tax relief for the people of Nebraska.
This session, the Legislature will debate and pass the next two-year budget for the State of Nebraska. My budget recommendation controls spending by limiting the average annual rate of growth to 1.5%.
My top priority continues to be property tax relief. Property taxes have been increasing faster than Nebraska’s families can afford. By controlling spending in the context of strong revenue growth, the Legislature can deliver significant property tax relief to Nebraska families. In January, my budget proposed $1.36 billion in relief over the next two years. With the new and improved forecast, the Legislature is now positioned to deliver even more property tax relief.
While we reduce the property tax burden, we will still achieve other key priorities, including expanding educational opportunities and protecting public safety. I’m proposing for the State to invest a record-high amount of aid—$1.1 billion—in schools in each of the next two fiscal years. Every child is unique and deserves the best educational setting for his or her needs, whether that’s a public school, private school, or homeschool. My budget includes $4 million in K-12 Opportunity Scholarships to give more students from low-income families the opportunity to attend private schools. I’m also recommending a $3 million investment in the textbook loan program for private school students. Empowering all Nebraska families with the freedom to choose the best educational options for their children is one of the best ways we can help the next generation achieve their dreams.
My budget includes $12 million for Nebraska Career Scholarships over the next two years at our community colleges, state colleges, and public universities. I’m also recommending $3 million to expand the Career Scholarship program to the private colleges in our state. This will bring the total number of career scholarships to at least 2,110 by 2023. These scholarships are equipping Nebraska’s young adults to take great jobs in high-demand fields such as healthcare and manufacturing.
Our strong fiscal position also gives us the opportunity to make a critical investment in public safety. The Nebraska State Penitentiary (NSP), which opened in 1869, is a decaying structure nearing the end of its lifespan. My budget proposes building a replacement for the NSP in anticipation of the current facility aging out of service by the end of the decade. In the interest of protecting our communities and giving our corrections officers a safe work environment, we must ensure that we have sufficient operational capacity to adequately manage our inmate population in the years ahead. My plan would invest the initial funds needed to have the NSP’s modernized replacement completed and operational by 2025.
Thanks to Nebraska’s strong economy, the Legislature can deliver significant property tax relief, invest in our schools, train the next generation of leaders in key industries, and protect public safety. You can view my plan to accomplish these priorities at budget.nebraska.gov/biennium-2021-2023.html. If you want additional property tax relief, call your State Senator to make your voice heard. You can find their information at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov. If you have questions about my budget proposal, email email@example.com or call 402-471-2244.