By Governor Pete Ricketts
December 29, 2015
The Governor’s official photo is available here.
Growing Nebraska has been theme of the first year of my administration. That’s why I was pleased to learn recently that Nebraska added over 13,000 people over the past year for our 28th consecutive year of growth. From 2014-2015, our population grew by 0.7 percent, second only to Colorado among our neighboring states. This is good news because it means more people than ever before are choosing to make Nebraska their home.
In 2015, my administration focused on policies and initiatives to grow our state. These included providing tax relief, supporting good-paying jobs, expanding educational opportunities, and making government more customer-friendly. Thanks to the hard work of many people, Nebraska continued to excel in each of these areas this year.
Working with the Legislature, we were able to provide $408 million in property tax relief over the next two years through the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund, an over 45 percent increase from previous budgets. This is significant, but there is still more work to be done and I remain committed to working with senators to provide additional property tax relief in the upcoming legislative session.
This tax relief was possible because the Legislature and I assembled a budget that cut the rate of growth in spending by approximately half of the previous rate from 6.5 percent to about 3.5 percent. Additionally, my administration is always seeking new ways to save taxpayer dollars. This fall, we announced $5 million in cost savings that will be gained from reducing IT-related expenses. Future tax relief will be dependent on our continued ability to constrain spending and hold the line on the growth of government.
Nebraska has the second-lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.9 percent. This November, Nebraska hit a new all-time high for non-farm employment at 1,018,252. Between October and November this year, Nebraska saw its largest month-to-month increase in labor force employment since 1976 when it increased by 2,818 jobs.
My administration also transformed our state’s unemployment system into a reemployment system to help quickly connect Nebraska’s job seekers with good jobs. Our new reemployment system requires benefit recipients to create a resume that is searchable by potential employers, as well as make five work search contacts a week instead of the two required under the old program. Job seekers also must sit down with a job coach and develop a reemployment strategy.
One of the biggest drivers of Nebraska’s strong workforce is our great education system. Nebraskans can be proud our high school graduation rate is the second highest in the nation, and our state has earned the highest ACT composite score average among states testing over 80% of their students.
We continue to expand education opportunities for young Nebraskans. This summer, my administration launched the Developing Youth Talent Initiative to foster partnerships between private industry and public schools to connect young Nebraskans in 7th and 8th grade to careers in the manufacturing and technology sectors.
Making government more customer-friendly is critical to creating a pro-business climate in our state and ensuring our state efficiently provides services for our most vulnerable citizens. To this end, my administration launched new online services, published key performance metrics, and reviewed existing management practices and processes. For example, Nebraskans can sign up to receive email and text notifications for vehicle registration renewals and businesses can now apply for some environmental quality permits online. Furthermore, the Department of Roads will return an additional $3 million annually to cities and counties for roads projects thanks to changes made in our federal funds swap program.
Measuring performance in government is key to creating a culture that values improvement because it focuses teams on delivering the right results. Metrics helped the team at AccessNebraska set performance targets and set a process improvement strategy that led to significantly improved performance. The average call wait time for SNAP applications in the past three months has fallen below a target of five minutes. We were able to accomplish this while maintaining our denial accuracy rate which ranks in the top ten nationally.
These are just a few of the many ways my administration has been working to help grow Nebraska in our first year. As we enter 2016, we will continue to focus on these priorities and look for new ways to grow our state to ensure Nebraska remains a great place to live, work, and raise a family. As we enter this New Year, I hope you will continue to share your thoughts with me about how to grow our state by emailing email@example.com or by calling 402-471-2244. I look forward to hearing from you!