By Governor Pete Ricketts
March 27, 2017
The Governor’s official photo is available here.
We are over halfway through the 90-day legislative session. Working with senators, we have already accomplished a few key priorities including important budget cuts. Even with this progress, a lot of work remains ahead to pass a balanced budget, deliver tax relief for Nebraska families, and pass other important bills before session concludes in early June.
This session, the number one priority is balancing the budget without raising taxes. Revenues have been relatively flat due to a decline in ag commodity prices. With low commodity prices and lagging revenues, it is important to note that state tax revenues are still projected to grow slowly in the coming years. The revenue shortfall this year is a shortfall in the projected growth of spending and the state will still spend more in this budget than the last budget.
All state-funded entities need to be a part of the solution. As my agencies, like Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, reduce their growth in spending, we are asking other taxpayer funded entities like the University of Nebraska and our community colleges to find ways to reduce their growth in spending too. This is essential to balancing the budget.
The Legislature and I have already worked together on steps to address the current year’s budget by passing and signing some budget cuts. There is still a lot of work to do on the budget. As the budget process moves forward, I continue to urge the Appropriations Committee to identify more places to cut the growth in spending and advance a budget that does not raise taxes.
Senators and I are also collaborating on tax reform plans. Last week, the Revenue Committee voted to include property and income tax reform proposals in a comprehensive package they are building to advance to the full Legislature. Passing property and income tax reform together is critical to building a coalition of rural and urban senators to overcome a potential filibuster on the floor of the Legislature.
A new analysis conducted by the Nebraska Department of Revenue shows that the Agricultural Valuation Fairness Act introduced by Senator Brasch on my behalf would have had a major impact over the last 10 years. Total ag land valuations across Nebraska have increased over 251 percent in 10 years. If this bill had been in place, the increase would have been limited to 36 percent over the last decade. This big spike in valuations has been the major driver of high property taxes on ag land. The Revenue Committee has tentatively included this proposal as a part of their overall tax reform package.
As senators continue to shape this comprehensive tax reform package, it is important they protect the funds budgeted for the Property Tax Credit Relief fund. Erasing the $440 million I budgeted over the next two years for the fund would leave Nebraskans without much-needed property tax relief.
Senators and I have also been working together on several other initiatives. They include providing better customer service, expanding religious freedom, and protecting public safety for Nebraska families. For example, LB340 would merge two state agencies that deliver services to Nebraska’s veterans. This merger will create a one-stop shop for our veterans to provide better customer service, so they no longer have to deal with more than one agency when seeking services. This week, I signed a bill carried by Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk that removes the criminal penalties for public school teachers for wearing religious garb. This law restricting individual religious freedom passed in 1919 in Nebraska at a time when several other states were restricting the freedom to wear religious clothing. Thirty-four other states have repealed similar laws, and after this victory in Nebraska, only one state still has the ban in place.
In addition to working on these bills, we have also been working to defeat several bad proposals. For example, Senator Ernie Chambers’ LB447 would repeal mandatory minimum sentences for drug manufacturers and drug dealers of heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. This bill narrowly passed through one round of debate, and will be debated again. I am urging senators to defeat the bill on the next round of debate to protect public safety.
There is still an enormous amount of work to accomplish in the last two months of session. I hope you will stay in touch with my office and your senator, so we can hear from you as priorities continue to move through the Legislature. You can reach my office by emailing email@example.com or by calling 402-471-2244.