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Voting for Our Future

Voting for Our Future

By Governor Pete Ricketts

March 15, 2022

 

Governor’s official photo here.

 

The Nebraska Legislature has reached a critical juncture.  In the coming weeks, Senators will make important votes on a budget that will shape the future of our state.  

 

On March 11th, the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee released its amendments to my proposed budget.  This week, Senators will begin debating what to do with billions of taxpayer dollars.  Specifically, they will decide whether surplus State revenues should be used for more government spending or returned to Nebraskans through tax relief.  This extra revenue isn’t my money as Governor.  It’s not the Legislature’s money.  It’s the people’s money. 

 

As the Legislature enters this pivotal stretch, here is a rundown of my budget priorities.

 

Controlling Spending

 

The State’s financial health depends on responsible stewardship of tax revenues.  During my administration, we’ve passed four budgets that have limited average annual spending growth to around 2.5%.  Every year after we pass a budget, special interest groups lobby the Legislature for more money.  Senators need to say “no” to wasteful spending and remain focused on the people’s priorities. 

 

Delivering Tax Relief

 

Thanks to Nebraskans’ hard work, our state has achieved strong growth, and State revenues have been much stronger than anticipated.  After last month’s revised revenue forecast, we’re now expected to increase tax receipts by $1.6 billion more than anticipated at the end of the 2021 Legislative session.  That represents a nearly 17% increase in our revenue forecast for this biennium.   When revenues exceed what we need to operate state government, we have an obligation to give this money back to the people.

 

The budget put forward by the Appropriations Committee last Friday allows the Legislature to aggressively pursue this relief.  I’m calling on Senators to pass three main tax bills.

 

  • LB 723 protects the income tax rebate Nebraskans receive for school property tax payments.  For the 2021 tax year, the rebate is over 25%.  Without action from Senators, the rebate is scheduled to decline in 2024.  LB 723 would make this property tax relief permanent.

 

  • LB 825 accelerates our phaseout of taxes on Social Security income from ten years to five years.  This will help our seniors in the face of rising inflation.

 

  • LB 939 makes Nebraska’s income tax structure more competitive with neighboring states.  Just last month, Iowa passed legislation to lower their top individual income tax rate to 3.9%.  With this change, our rate of 6.84% is now an outlier in the region.  South Dakota and Wyoming have no state income tax.  Colorado has a flat rate of 4.55%.  Kansas and Missouri have income tax rates that top out at 5.7% and 5.4%, respectively.  Without action from the Unicameral, our top tax bracket—which includes 60% of Nebraska’s families—will be 20% more than any surrounding state.  Given our workforce needs, we can’t afford to have Nebraska’s graduates move across state lines to take advantage of a more favorable tax climate.  The Legislature must act this session to cut income taxes.

 

Replacing the Nebraska State Penitentiary

 

Senators must fully authorize construction for a modern facility to replace the aging State Penitentiary.  The current penitentiary has outlived its usefulness.  The existing State Penitentiary has poor sightlines that pose a security risk for our Corrections Officers.  Its utilities are unreliable.  It is too outdated to provide the modern programming inmates need to successfully re-enter society.  The longer the delay, the more costly a new construction project will become—and the more issues we’ll have at the current penitentiary for inmates and officers alike.

 

Protecting Our Water Resources

 

Colorado is moving full steam ahead on nearly $10 billion of water projects in the South Platte River Basin.  This threatens to drastically reduce water flows Nebraskans currently depend on for drinking water, agricultural irrigation, power generation, and the health of our natural environment.  The good news is that Nebraska has a compact with Colorado that guarantees us certain amounts of water throughout the year.  However, Nebraska’s entitlement is contingent on building a canal and reservoir system—known as the Perkins County Canal—along the South Platte River.  Until we build the canal, Colorado is not obligated to send us a single drop of water from the South Platte River during nearly half of the year. 

 

I’ve recommended for the Legislature to fully fund the canal with an allocation of $500 million this year.  The Appropriations Committee has included $53.5 million in its budget proposal.  This amount will provide for the design, permitting, and land acquisition to get the project moving.  I urge Senators to fully approve these pre-construction costs, and to allocate additional funds to construct the canal.

 

Keeping a Check on Taxpayer Dollars

 

The Appropriations Committee removed language from my budget recommendation to prevent public funds from being used to research, adopt, or implement state sex education standards for Nebraska’s kids.

 

Last year’s efforts to implement sex education standards show that this concept is highly controversial among Nebraska’s parents.  Parents don’t want their children being inundated with non-scientific, political ideas on sensitive topics that go beyond appropriate health education.  It’s inappropriate to use their tax dollars on the development of these agenda-driven standards.  There are far better, less divisive educational enhancements this money could go towards.    

 

Senator Albrecht has proposed an amendment to the budget that would add this language back in.  I encourage Senators to adopt this amendment as they finalize the budget.

 

Now is the time when Senators are deciding how to vote on these key issues.  I urge you to reach out to your representative to make your voice heard.  Their contact information is available at nebraskalegislature.gov.  If you have questions about my budget priorities, please email pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244.