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Emphasis for governor’s second term is more jobs

January 19, 2019

Gov. Pete Ricketts gave a summary of his proposed budget and plans for the state in his second term Thursday morning at the Norfolk Regional Airport.

“The vision for my administration is to grow Nebraska,” Ricketts said, “which means to create more better-paying jobs, keep our kids and grandkids here and attract people from around the country.”

Ricketts said in a speech to a crowd of about 40 people that his proposals include scholarship programs for Nebraska students and a constitutional amendment for property tax relief.

Among the scholarships proposed include 65 $4,000 scholarships for community college students, 250 $4,000 scholarships for state college students and 250 $4,000 scholarships for university students.

“That’s the way to make sure Nebraskans get great paying jobs, by getting the skills they need, and helping them afford post-secondary education,” Ricketts said.

The constitutional amendment Ricketts is proposing would limit the percentage of annual property tax increases by 3 percent. An amendment to the state constitution would not only require passage by the Nebraska Legislature, but also would need to be approved by voters in the next election.

Ricketts also briefly addressed an issue important to Northeast Nebraskans: the expansion of Highway 275.

“It’s key to get the right infrastructure so our largest industries like agriculture and manufacturing can grow,” Ricketts said. “We’ve run into a snag with the Army Corps of Engineers, but we’re really pushing to get that four-lane done.”

Originally, the state planned to begin building the eastern portion of the highway from West Point to Scribner this year, but the Army Corps of Engineers stepped in to conduct an environmental study on wetlands near Scribner, delaying the project by at least two years.

Ricketts said he is working with Environmental Protection Agency acting administrator Andrew Wheeler to minimize future interventions by the Corps by shifting responsibilities from the Corps to the EPA.

Under that system, Ricketts said, decisions would be made by elected officials and their appointees, who could be held more accountable than an independent agency.

During an open question and answer period, Ricketts fielded questions about the scholarship programs, economic development and infrastructure.

Wes Hysell of Norfolk also asked Ricketts about the future of cannabis in Nebraska, including the possibility of medical cannabis or decriminalizing the drug altogether.

Hysell, a native of Norfolk who has previously lived in Colorado, said to Ricketts and the crowd that he has seen the benefits of legalization, not only in terms of economic benefits but also personal benefits.

He said that when he was injured years ago, he used cannabis to recover instead of opiates and barbiturates, the former being the subject of an ongoing national epidemic.

Ricketts said he relies on the federal Food and Drug Administration to determine his views on the drug.

“Any drug that is going to be used by our people needs to be determined to be safe and effective, and it needs to go through that process,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts said he is also skeptical about cannabis because of public safety and health, saying that THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis, could potentially harm children.

Other highlights of the budget include increasing funding to schools, $49 million for an expanded correctional facility to curb prison overcrowding, a tax relief plan for military veterans and increasing funds to the state university, college and community college systems.

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