By Governor Pete Ricketts
Over the last 19 months I have logged tens of thousands of miles crisscrossing our great state and listening to the thoughts, ideas, and concerns of our citizens. Throughout my travels the number one issue I hear about from hardworking Nebraskans is the need for tax relief. Whether it’s farmers and home owners seeking relief from Nebraska’s high property taxes or businesses being held back by our second-highest-in-the-region income tax rates, the message is clear: Nebraskans want and deserve tax relief.
A bill scheduled to be heard before the full legislature will do the exact opposite. LB610 would increase the gas tax paid in Nebraska by 6 cents per gallon. While that may not seem like a lot, this increase would be added to the about 25.6 cents Nebraskans are already paying in state gas tax per gallon of gasoline. If this tax increase passed, state gas taxes alone would account for about 13% of the cost of fuel at today’s average price of $2.39 per gallon. At this level, Nebraska’s gas tax rate would be about twice our state’s top income tax bracket.
Not only does a gas tax increase impact nearly every Nebraskan, it is one of the most regressive taxes, impacting those who can least afford it the most. Tax increases, like the proposed gas tax hike, take away money that low and fixed-income Nebraskans count on to pay for food, utilities, and medication.
While proponents of the gas tax increase have raised important concerns about the state of Nebraska’s roads and bridges, there are alternatives our state should first explore. Raising taxes should never be the first line of defense. Right now, I am conducting a national search for a new roads director to find someone who can take a fresh look at how Nebraska can approach road construction differently. Other states have done it through ideas like public/private partnerships and working to improve operations and flexibility within the current regulatory framework.
In 2011, then State Senator Deb Fischer led the effort to pass LB84, the Build Nebraska Act, which allocated one-quarter of a percent of Nebraska’s sales tax to roads construction. This was a sensible approach that provided much-needed additional funding to help ensure that our state’s roads priorities receive funding and made it easier for our state to budget for roads construction. Most importantly, it was done without increasing taxes.
That is exactly the approach I plan to take with our new Department of Roads director. We will look for new ways to approach roads funding, construction, and regulation. We will also do it knowing that we have been charged with safeguarding taxpayer dollars.
I urge all Nebraskans to reach out to your respective state senator and express your concerns about higher taxes. We did not become a high tax state overnight, and we will not lower taxes all at once. But we cannot bring our taxes down if the first step is a tax increase. For more information on how you contact your senator, please visit www.nebraskalegislature.gov.