An Historic Session
By Governor Pete Ricketts
June 1, 2021
Governor’s official photo here.
Last week, the Legislature wrapped up one of its most productive sessions in history. With almost 700 bills under consideration, Senators and I successfully worked together to control spending growth, deliver tax relief, invest in broadband infrastructure, and expand educational opportunities among several other key priorities. Here are a few of the highlights from an historic legislative session that helped move our state forward the Nebraska way.
Controlling Spending: The next two-year budget that Senators and I agreed to limits spending growth to 2.4%. The four biennial budgets I have worked on with the Legislature have an average annual growth rate of less than 2.5%. Thanks to efforts to control state spending, we delivered over $1.8 billion in tax relief to Nebraskans over the next two years. That’s the greatest amount of tax relief any Legislature has delivered in at least a quarter-century—and likely the largest amount in the history of the State of Nebraska. This represents an average of 18.5% of the State’s budget going to tax relief over the next two years.
Property Tax Relief: Property tax relief made up the vast majority of the relief this session. Together, the Legislature and I delivered an estimated $1.7 billion in property tax relief over the next two years. This includes over $433 million each year through the new refundable income tax credit, which was passed into law in 2020. This is over triple the $125 million in tax credits provided this year, which was the program’s first year. We also increased the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund as well as funding for the Homestead Exemption.
And More Tax Relief: In addition to property tax relief, Senators and I agreed on five other important measures. We eliminated taxes on military retirement income as well as provided a tax exemption for 50% of Social Security income that will be phased in over time. Senators also passed legislation to reduce the business income tax rate to equalize tax rates on different types of job creators. A new “truth in taxation” law will now require local governments to notify taxpayers whenever their property tax askings are scheduled to increase more than 2%. And finally, ag land valuations will be reduced from 75% of market value to 50% of market value for the purposes of property taxes for bond issues. This will reduce the tax burden on farmers and ranchers.
Broadband Infrastructure: The Legislature approved the Broadband Bridge Act, which was introduced at my request. This will invest $20 million in matching grants annually to expand access to high-speed broadband to 30,000 Nebraska households in the next two years. This improved connectivity will help more Nebraskans to have the flexibility to work remotely, do their homework, and to access telehealth and ecommerce.
Expanded Education Opportunities: This session, Senators and I expanded education opportunities for the next generation of Nebraskans. We agreed to invest over $1 billion annually in state aid to K-12 schools. At my recommendation, the Legislature cut red tape to make it quicker and easier for military spouses licensed in another state to obtain a teaching permit after moving to Nebraska. This budget creates new scholarships for private institutions of higher education and continues funding scholarships for Community Colleges, State Colleges, and the University of Nebraska to connect students to career pathways with great-paying jobs. The budget also tripled the size of the textbook loan program, providing $3 million to support textbooks for private schools over the next two years.
Other Major Wins: Important legislative action also occurred on pro-life tax credits, Second Amendment protections, healthcare licensing, and carryout alcohol. A new tax credit for families who have a stillborn baby will help offset medical bills, burial expenses, and costs of preparing for the baby’s arrival. Senators and I protected your Second Amendment rights by clarifying firearm transportation law and by providing gun owners with better notification and information regarding permit renewals. At my request, the Legislature made it easier for hospitals and healthcare facilities to meet their workforce needs by providing expedited reciprocity for many licensed healthcare professions. Finally, the Legislature enshrined my popular carryout alcohol executive order in law, ensuring that takeout cocktails, beer, and wine continue past the pandemic.
Even as the Legislature made significant progress on major priorities, there is still more work to do on a couple of key issues. The Legislature still needs to pass limits on the growth of local property taxes. Local government property taxes have gone up 4.3% per year over the past decade in Nebraska. That may not sound like much, but when compounded over 10 years, it’s nearly a 52% increase. By comparison, income grew 48% and inflation just 18.7% during the past decade. Unless Senators take action, this pattern will continue.
Additionally, the Legislature will need to reconvene later this year to complete the process of redistricting maps for congressional, legislative, and other districts. The State of Nebraska has been waiting on the Biden-Harris Administration for census data to allow us to complete this work.
As we move into the summer, I will be traveling the state to visit directly with you at town halls and other community events. I’ll be in Clay Center, Norfolk, Wahoo, and Broken Bow for town halls over the next week with more dates and times to be announced. If you have questions about anything, you are welcome to contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-471-2244. We look forward to hearing from you!