By Governor Pete Ricketts
May 23, 2017
The Governor’s official photo is available here.
Only a few months ago, I stood before the Legislature to deliver my State of the State address to lay out my legislative agenda for the year. On Tuesday, the 2017 legislative session concluded. Despite a challenging fiscal landscape, senators and I found a way to come together this year on important issues to accomplish what was required for our people and our state. Together, we worked to strengthen our communities, expand job opportunities, reduce the size of state government, and put the state on a better financial footing.
This session, senators passed and I signed three bills to strengthen our communities and promote a culture of life. With LB518, we are now targeting counties of fewer than 100,000 people with grants to build workforce housing. Building new housing is one of the biggest barriers to growing Nebraska’s small and mid-sized communities. Additionally, the Legislature passed the first pro-life bills in five years. LB46 created “Choose Life” license plates, and LB506 provides essential information regarding perinatal hospice care to pregnant woman diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly.
Senators and I worked together to pass six bills to cut red tape in licensed professions and reform our state’s unemployment benefits system. Together, we broke down barriers for military spouses with occupational licenses, eliminated an unnecessary motor vehicle salesperson license, and repealed a duplicative license for audiologists. Senator Kuehn and I worked on common sense reform of unemployment benefits to ensure that individuals who quit jobs without good cause are not automatically eligible for unemployment benefits. This reform encourages employment and protects our benefits program for Nebraskans who lose their jobs and truly need the safety net the program was designed to be.
This session, the Legislature and I worked to reduce the size of state government and improve customer service with two agency mergers that have been sought after for years. Working with Senator Friesen, we created the Nebraska Department of Transportation by merging the Department of Roads and Department of Aeronautics. This change creates efficiencies and allows more funds to flow to runways and roads to grow our communities. Thanks to the work of Senator Murante, we merged the Nebraska Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Division of Veterans’ Homes. This one-stop shop for services for Nebraska’s veterans creates a single, united team working for the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our state and country.
The budget presented the most significant challenge this session, demanding significant attention and collaboration between the Governor’s Office and senators. My number one priority was balancing the budget without raising taxes. While there was a lot of discussion by special interests at the beginning of the session about raising taxes, senators and I worked together to control government spending and to balance the budget without a tax increase. The budget we enacted was prudent and thoughtful, and put Nebraska on improved financial footing with reduced spending.
The Legislature did leave one significant priority untouched this year: tax relief. Twenty-two senators voted down structural property and income tax reforms, missing an opportunity to make Nebraska more competitive. This failure will leave working Nebraska families shouldering the fifth highest property taxes and the 14th highest income taxes per capita for another year. I will continue to work with senators on tax reform proposals for the next legislative session. We can and must make Nebraska a more tax competitive state, so we can continue to grow agriculture and Main Street.
Overall, Nebraska taxpayers can be pleased that this legislative session accomplished significant priorities which will help to grow our state and place the state on sound financial footing. This summer and fall, I will be traveling the state and hosting town halls to hear from you. I invite you to join me at these events. Watch www.Governor.Nebraska.gov for details. Until then, you are welcome to contact me at email@example.com or 402-471-2244 with any thoughts or concerns.