Moving Forward the Nebraska Way
By Governor Pete Ricketts
January 19, 2021
Governor’s official photo here.
On Thursday, January 14th I delivered my annual “State of the State” address to the Nebraska Legislature. Even after back-to-back years of major challenges—historic floods in 2019 and a pandemic in 2020—I am pleased to report that the state of the state is strong. The work of Nebraskans everywhere has helped to meet these challenges with grit, tenacity, and determination.
As Senators begin this session, there are plenty of opportunities to make our state even stronger. This will require working together the Nebraska Way.
This year, the Unicameral will work on the state budget for the next two years. The budget I’ve proposed controls spending by limiting the average growth rate to 1.5 percent. Within this framework, we can achieve several important priorities.
First, property tax relief. The budget I’ve presented to the Legislature delivers $1.36 billion in relief over the next two years. This includes $550 million in direct property tax relief through the State’s Property Tax Credit Relief Fund, and nearly $597 million from the new refundable property tax credit. I am also proposing $214 million to provide for property tax payments under the current homestead exemption program.
To deliver real property tax relief, we have to slow the growth of property tax bills. This will ensure that the relief the State provides goes into people’s pockets. Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn and I are proposing to limit the growth of local government property taxes to 3 percent per year. Property taxes are growing at a rate that Nebraskans cannot manage within their family budgets. They’ve grown by 4.46 percent annually, on average, for the last 10 years for an overall increase of 54.65 percent.
If the Legislature fails to enact spending constraints, I believe Nebraskans will take matters into their own hands and strip local governments of their property tax authority. This happened before in the 1960s when voters stripped the State of its authority to tax property, and it can happen again. The spending limits we’re proposing are reasonable. By putting them in place, the Legislature can ensure that Nebraska’s communities preserve local control of the institutions they cherish.
As we take action to reduce the property tax burden, it’s important to give strong support to schools as well. Under my budget proposal, the State would give a record-high amount of aid ($1.1 billion per year) to schools over the next two years. As I have done every year as Governor, I again propose to fully fund the K-12 education formula. I’m also proposing opportunity scholarships, more career scholarships, and money for our textbook program. We must continue to invest in the next generation of Nebraskans so they can access educational opportunities that can help them achieve their dreams.
I’m also proposing three initiatives to advance toward our goal of becoming the best state in the nation for military families and veterans. First, Nebraska is still working to bring Space Command to the Heartland. Senator John Stinner of Gering and I are recommending for the State to invest $50 million into a public-private partnership to headquarter this important mission at Offutt Air Force Base. Second, Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon and I are proposing that Nebraska exempt 100 percent of military retirement income for military retirees. This would complete the work on veterans tax relief we began last year. Third, I’m working with Senators Rita Sanders and Carol Blood of Bellevue to remove regulatory barriers that impede military spouses from taking jobs in Nebraska as licensed professionals.
We must continue to invest in better broadband coverage so that more Nebraskans have access to fast, reliable internet service. Over 80,000 Nebraska households lack broadband speeds of at least 25/3. The pandemic revealed how impossible work from home or remote education can be for those on the wrong side of the digital divide. Over the last several months, we used federal coronavirus assistance to begin connecting 17,600 households with broadband. Senator Curt Friesen of Henderson, Speaker Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, and I are proposing that we invest $20 million in each of the next two years to help another 30,000 households get broadband connectivity. This will move Nebraska closer to bringing broadband coverage to every corner of the state.
Finally, my budget recommendation takes steps to protect public safety. Nebraska’s corrections system has been underbuilt for 40 years, and our infrastructure is aging. We’ve made progress by investing in sentencing reform, rehabilitation, and the physical plant of our system over the past six years. But more must be done to modernize our prisons and prepare for the future. By 2025, Nebraska’s corrections system is forecasted to house over 6,400 inmates. Our current operational capacity is about 5,300 inmates, and the Nebraska State Penitentiary is decaying. To protect public safety and replace the State Penitentiary, my budget plans for the construction of a new, modern correctional facility. It will require an initial investment of $115 million in the upcoming two-year budget. This amount represents half of the estimated $230 million of costs to have the facility completed and operational in 2025.
These are all critical priorities to get done this year. If you have questions about them, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2244. As the session gets underway, I’m confident that we can achieve each of these initiatives by working together the Nebraska Way.