Governor Pillen 2024 State of State Address
Laura Strimple, (402) 580-9495
Jacy Schafer, (531) 510-8529
Governor Pillen 2024 State of State Address
LINCOLN, NE – Today, Governor Pillen gave his annual State of the State address. The full address is below:
“President Kelly, Speaker Arch, and members of the 108th Nebraska Legislature. Family, friends, and distinguished guests. My fellow Nebraskans.
Over the past 11 days, Nebraska experienced historically brutal winter weather. Subzero temperatures, back-to-back blizzards, and unrelenting winds paralyzed much of our state, stranding hundreds of travelers, preventing farmers and ranchers from reaching their farms and feeding their animals, shuttering businesses, challenging our power grid, and threatening safety and commerce for thousands.
To meet this emergency, Nebraskans helped Nebraskans, just as they have done countless times before. State troopers, sheriff’s deputies, police officers, other first responders, and snow fighters from across the state moved swiftly to rescue those trapped by the storms, clear roads, and dig out our communities and agriculture. These brave men and women represent the best and the backbone of our state public servants who rush into the storm and into harm’s way to help their neighbors. It is because of them and because of the resilience of the toughest, hardest-working people in this land that the state of our state is as strong as ever.
In the balcony today are Nebraska State Patrol Sergeant Jesse Pfeifer, Air National Guard Major Dave Strom, and Department of Transportation District Operations Manager and Snow Fighter Tim Koenig. We thank them for their tireless service to Nebraska, and I ask you to join me in recognizing them as representatives of all of Nebraska’s law enforcement, first responders, National Guard, and highway workers.
We must never forget the reality of the hazards these public servants face every day. This past year, Nebraska lost two of our DOT highway workers in the line of duty. Their names were Mark Wells and Dave Schwartz, and I ask you all to join me in a moment of silence to honor their memories. Thank you.
One year ago, I stood before you in this magnificent Chamber and pledged to be Governor of all Nebraskans and to build relationships with all of their representatives. It has been my honor to do so. We did not agree on every issue. God forbid we ever do.
But we certainly agreed that our kids are our future, and we never ever give up on our kids. United by those principles, together in 2023 we accomplished much for Nebraska’s future. We took major steps to make sure the state meets its school funding promises to every kid in every district by investing 1 billion dollars into the Education Future Fund to support K-12 education. This included a critical step forward in foundation aid of 1500 dollars per student and overdue increases in special education funding. We invested in our workforce by guaranteeing state-funding for our dynamic community college system to help increase access to trade school degrees.
And we passed the Opportunity Scholarships Act, which will ensure that needy students from every corner of our state have a chance at a good education at a school that will be the best fit for them. To no one's surprise the success of this program is obvious, with thousands of Nebraska kids already expressing interest in the program. Several are with us today, including Opportunity Scholarship recipients Nyah Bell from Omaha and Destiny Curtis from Norfolk. Please join me in welcoming these students to their State Capitol. Sadly, union bosses and politicians are trying to rip these scholarships away from kids like Nyah and Destiny. I will fight to protect what we worked so hard to pass last year and call upon this body to do the same.
Last year included major achievements in other areas, too. We took a big first step toward addressing mental health challenges with the unanimous creation of certified community behavioral health clinics. 2023 was a groundbreaking year for fiscal conservatism, too. We agreed that state government was spending too much and taxing its people too much. We tightened our belts and passed a historic fiscal conservative budget with only 2 percent growth. We agreed that taxing our seniors’ social security is not the Nebraska way and ended it. We finally made our income tax codes competitive with our neighbors by reducing income tax rates to 3.99 percent by 2027.
Agriculture is the heart and soul of Nebraska’s economy, and we made big investments in its future and infrastructure. We supported value-added agriculture by increasing consumer ethanol access. We created and strengthened the Nebraska Broadband Office, which will leverage once-in-a-generation resources to ensure rural Nebraska businesses and farms can connect to a global economy. And we created the financing tools needed to finally finish our statewide expressway system.
We defended the unborn by restricting abortions beyond 12 weeks. We will continue to embrace life here in Nebraska with the launch of a yearlong “Culture of Life and Love Initiative” It will provide resources to expecting moms, especially those in crisis and who need support more than ever. Much work remains to be done, but this Legislature should be proud of its investments in Nebraska’s future. Thank you.
We Nebraskans are a people grounded in values: faith, family, freedom, life, and love. We are a place of rich opportunity and one of the safest places to live in the world to raise a family. We have the gift of belief. Among our greatest strengths is that we believe we can compete with anyone, anywhere in the world and we can.
Blessed with these traits, our economy can weather any storm and emerge stronger. Our economic diversity is at the foundation of this resilience. If agriculture slows, our manufacturers keep Nebraskans at work, and vice versa.
Our banking sector much of which is family-owned and deeply familiar with the businesses and farming operations it serves provides the stability and liquidity needed for growth.
Because of sound, prudent regulation and a low tax burden, Nebraska has become an insurance capital, attracting strong companies, creating thousands of jobs, and an industry that ranks in the top 3 nationally.
Our public university system has world-class healthcare and biosecurity assets, which attract patients and experts from across the globe.
We are a sophisticated national security hub, hosting STRATCOM at Offutt Air Force Base and providing the nuclear deterrence necessary to secure a troubled world.
To support and grow these incredible economic assets, among our chief goals in state government must be to get government out of the way, reduce regulations and bureaucratic hurdles, and empower people and businesses to thrive. In our administration, we call this Operation: Clean Out the Closets, in which we try to identify every statutory or regulatory mandate that adds needless costs to healthcare, education, senior care, and businesses of all kinds. We can do much in the executive branch, but we must partner with you to complete this task and to stay vigilant against new costly mandates. Together we can get government out of the way and focused again on its core functions: public safety, education, and infrastructure.
This legislative session, though short, holds great promise and opportunity for our state. There is a tremendous amount of the people’s work we must accomplish to make this a better, safer, and stronger place for every Nebraska kid, family, business, and farm. If we are thoughtful, principled, and keep the interests of all Nebraskans before us, I have no doubt this can be one of the most impactful legislative sessions in our history.
First and foremost, the most important economic issue we face is out of control property taxes. This crisis is not new. It has been hurting Nebraska farmers, ranchers, homeowners, and businesses for most of our lifetimes. High property taxes hurt every Nebraskan in every part of our state and must be fixed NOW. Property taxes are so out of whack, you don’t even need to own property to be impacted. They are the most regressive tax government imposes on its people. Fixed income Nebraskans who have lived, worked, and raised families here now face the prospect of being forced out of their homes due to out-of-control property taxes. That is unacceptable, but you have several proposals before you to fix it.
Senator Linehan has introduced a hard cap on local spending, which can be overridden only by a vote of the people. This measure is critical, as only a hard cap will force local government to finally curb spending.
Senator Dover has a bill that will repurpose existing credits so all property taxpayers can benefit from this relief, not just those with the best accountants. His bill will also add one billion dollars in new property tax credits. Critically, all of these credits will be front-loaded so that property taxpayers will see them directly on their property tax statements instead of having to go through an onerous process to claim them through their income taxes months later.
Through hard work, collaboration, and setting politics aside, we must find the revenue to support this property tax relief. Senators von Gillern, Kauth, Meyer, Murman, Albrecht, and Linehan have offered several bills to close several tax loopholes created for special interests at the expense of the middle class.
We have examined over 500 agency cash funds and will transfer 274 million dollars to support property tax relief. Oh, and by the way, even after that transfer, we still have a total of 2.49 billion dollars in those cash funds. And that’s not even counting the 1.25 billion dollars in our general and cash reserve fund. It is not the job of government to hoard cash and we must give it back to the people.
We must lower our overall tax burden, widen our tax base, and end the era of special interest tax breaks. Tax policy must benefit our state as a whole, not whoever has the best lobbyist. With these changes Nebraskans’ property tax bill will be cut by 40 percent this year. I know there is the will, good faith, knowledge, and ability in this chamber to solve it, and I pledge to work with you as long as it takes to get this done.
Nebraska government remains too big at every level. Since my inauguration, we have been relentless in searching for efficiencies, cutting costs, ending bloated contracts, and working to meet the performance improvement targets this Legislature set out for us last session. We must do more, however, including by structurally reducing the excessive number of boards and commissions that have built up in Nebraska government over the years. At last count, we have over two hundred state boards and commissions, many of which are redundant or oversee activities that can be eliminated. Senator Brewer has introduced a measure that would eliminate forty-eight—or twenty percent—of our boards and commissions. I urge the Legislature to make the most of this opportunity to shrink unnecessary government.
For over a century, Nebraska has been the land of opportunity for newcomers. For years, we have used income tax abatement as our main tool to incentivize companies to come to Nebraska. This has yielded many success stories and thousands of good, well-paying careers for hard-working Nebraskans. But we must make sure we are not giving our topsoil away by giving incentives to foreign companies who view Nebraska merely as a conduit for cheap electricity, free water, and cheap labor.
We must align our economic incentives to strengthen not only value-adding new businesses, but also Nebraska-owned, Nebraska-led businesses which have been building our economy for generations.
That is why I am working with Senator Linehan to reform our current incentive package to make Nebraska's incentives competitive in the manufacturing sector for Nebraska-grown companies. While we want to create and incentivize great careers in Nebraska, we must focus more on recruiting people to The Good Life. We must retool our incentives to be people focused.
One priority, brought by Senator Brewer, will be strengthening the ranks of our great Nebraska National Guard by exempting its members from state income tax. While significant, this is the least we can do to honor them for all they do for our state and nation. Thank you, Colonel Brewer, for your own service and commitment to our armed forces.
We will incentivize new Nebraskans to join our private workforce, too. Senator Ballard has introduced an innovative bill that will give Nebraska businesses credit for bringing new residents to our state. Passing this bill will be another investment in our future workforce. But we must recognize that investing in the twenty-first century workforce is different from what we’ve done before. No longer can we focus tax breaks on companies that are takers, not givers, and that do not share our values.
With input from our working group that focused on workforce development over the past six months, we have come forward with proposals in childcare & early childhood education, housing, and general education.
I have partnered with Senator Bostar on Legislation to create a Micro-Center network. This will allow local communities and businesses to get creative with existing space and resources to meet their childcare needs.
To build the housing we need for our workforce, we should invest an additional 25 million dollars into the Rural Workforce Housing Fund. All across rural Nebraska, the demand for workforce housing is so great that homes are sold before the doors are even hung. But it’s not just a rural Nebraska issue. Housing affordability and availability is an issue in our cities too. Part of the shared problem is local overregulation of affordable housing. That is why I am partnering with Senator Lowe on lowering the regulatory burden for affordable housing. A recent UNO study showed that regulation as a component of construction is over 40 thousand dollars higher here than the national average. This is simply unacceptable and makes no sense. We must cut the red tape and make homes affordable in Nebraska.
I am partnering with Senator Walz to break down the barriers for potential teachers to enter the workforce. I ask this question all the time, “who are the top three people that impacted your life the most?” I guarantee if we took the time for each of you to answer, all 49 of you would have a teacher or a coach in your answer. I tell you what, if I would have known and understood the impact a coach can have I would have been a coach. It is one of society’s most important professions. That is why we must allow for reciprocity for teachers coming from another state and simplify how to apply for and receive a teaching certificate. That way more Nebraskans can easily choose this honorable profession.
Finally, I am working with Senator Linehan to change our incentive credits to direct them toward housing, childcare, and early childhood education for Nebraskans.
Outside this building, state government must do more collectively to align our institutions of higher education to meet the workforce needs of tomorrow. I look forward to partnering with our University of Nebraska, State College system, and Community College System to launch the One Nebraska initiative, which will eliminate needless duplication and inefficient competition between state-supported schools. Along with finally harmonizing and strengthening our Regents Scholarship program, we will make sure that our higher education keeps our best and brightest here and trains them to lead Nebraska into the future. These efforts will stop the brain drain, welcome new Nebraskans, and will help businesses, ranchers and farmers thrive.
Speaking of attracting people to Nebraska, it’s tough to do that with nonsense slogans like we’re “not for everyone.” We must bring our economic development, people recruitment, and tourism promotion work back under the same leadership, so that they can be better coordinated and run at less administrative expense to the taxpayers. Senator McDonnell has a carryover bill from last session that would correct a decade-old mistake of separating tourism from economic development. I urge you to pass this bill so we can again tell the world that The Good Life is for everyone.
Nebraska has become a Mecca for women’s athletics, with our women’s sports drawing tremendous inspiration and excitement and our female athletes becoming superstars. Supporting our women athletes takes more than just buying tickets and watching games, though—it also means protecting them in the arena and in the locker room. Simply put, I don’t want my granddaughter to bear the fundamental unfairness of competing against a boy. And I certainly don’t want her to suffer the indignity of showering next to a boy. And that goes both ways—our boys shouldn’t be sharing showers with girls. This is commonsense stuff that the overwhelming majority of Nebraskans support. Senator Kauth’s Sports and Spaces Act, also carried over from last year, reflects that common sense. I believe in sports, I believe in women’s sports, and I believe in protecting women athletes, and I urge you to pass LB575.
We have also included in our budget proposal funding that will enable us to take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime federal resources designed to develop the new bioeconomy here in Nebraska. This diverse area of economic activity encompasses everything from sustainable aviation fuel to plastics, nylon, acrylics, and amino acids—all sourced from corn and soybeans and able to made here in Nebraska. Nebraska is uniquely well-equipped to be the leader in the new bioeconomy. Blessed with constantly renewed water resources that are not only a natural buffer against drought but also enable us to grow crops more sustainably than anywhere else, we already produce the building blocks of the new bioeconomy. This will provide more value for our agricultural products, more research and innovation, and more wealth right here.
We are the envy of the Nation when it comes to our people, our safety, our energy independence, and our food security. Center to it all is our pot of gold the Ogallala Aquifer one of the few truly sustainable aquifers in the western hemisphere. Our water is the key to value-added agriculture the ability to raise more crops per acre while using less energy. Looking ahead, even beyond this session, it is critical that we strengthen our water laws to guarantee this priceless resource is not diverted to solve water management failures in other parts of the country. We must invest to incentivize ag producers to use less water to raise more. Better measurement tools, more use of technology, and more innovation will enable us to use less water while irrigating more crops right here in Nebraska.
With our water being the envy of the world, we cannot allow adversarial foreign interests the ability to take it. That is why I am partnering with Senator DeKay to modernize Nebraska’s laws on land ownership to prohibit purchases by adversaries. This bill would tighten up those restrictions and provide a clear directive for enforcement. Additionally, the bill rescinds exemptions for foreign ownership, such as foreign oil, gas and mineral development in the state. The world is not the same place as it was in the 1950s, when these laws were last reviewed. It is imperative to keep enemies of our country from owning land in our state, especially near sensitive military installations.
I am also partnering with Senator Bostar to ban enemies like China, North Korea, and Iran from bidding on any public contract that deals with security related items like IT, communication networks, and infrastructure.
As I close, I want to share with you one of the most incredible moments I experienced during my first year as your Governor. Early last year, I was privileged to be the first Governor to join a conference of Nebraska’s tribal leaders in South Sioux City. While there, one of the tribal elders shared with me what his grandfather taught him: that whenever his community’s leaders gather to make important decisions for their people’s future, they are guided by the knowledge that their actions have an impact for seven generations. That is incredibly powerful and has remained with me ever since. It has come to guide my own public service and I hope you find meaning in it, too. It has been roughly seven generations since Nebraska was founded. Those pioneers poured their blood, sweat, and tears into this land, not only for themselves but for their kids, grandkids, and generations to come. Their hard work, grit, sacrifice, and optimism is reflected in our people today.
As we do the people’s business in the days, weeks, and months ahead, we should never forget that we are working for future generations of Nebraskans, so that they may inherit the same safe, strong, and prosperous Nebraska that we enjoy today. If we look beyond localized interests and set politics aside, and instead put the best interests of Nebraska as our sole guiding principle, I have no doubt that we can win for our agriculture, our businesses, our taxpayers, our kids, and our future. Together we can.
Speaking of having an impact for seven generations thank you to this body for partnering with us to launch a five-million-dollar investment in mentoring organizations across the state, because while not every kid needs a mentor, every kid deserves one. The lifetime benefits of mentoring cannot be overstated. And that is why I am so honored that we are joined today by one of my own mentors, and a dedicated public servant of Nebraska himself, Coach Tom Osborne. Coach has been a leader in creating mentoring opportunities for thousands of kids and he is an inspiration to us all. Will you join me in recognizing Coach Osborne and everything he has done for Nebraska.
Thank you for your friendship and partnership in service of the people we collectively represent. It goes without saying, none of us could answer our calls to serve without the support of our families. I am certainly grateful for the love and support of my own family, including our First Lady, Suzanne, who is here with us today. And thanks to you and your families for the sacrifices you and they make for your public service to Nebraska.
God bless you and God bless the great State of Nebraska.”