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Ricketts plans to maintain focus on jobs, taxes in 2nd term

January 6, 2019
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In this Jan. 3, 2019 photo, Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks during an interview in his office in Lincoln, Neb. Ricketts is preparing to start his second and final term in office next week with a focus on jobs, lowering taxes and promoting Nebraska domestically and abroad. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Gov. Pete Ricketts is preparing to start his second and final term in office next week with a focus on jobs, lowering taxes and promoting Nebraska domestically and abroad.

In an Associated Press interview, the Republican governor said he hopes to concentrate on the same economic issues he championed during his first four years at the Capitol.

Ricketts said his agenda will build on the “four pillars” he emphasized in his first term: connecting residents to high-paying employment, providing government services more efficiently, slowing the growth of state spending and touting Nebraska as a good place for businesses to invest.

“We’re going to stick with those same four pillars,” Ricketts said. “It’s a question of how we take what we’ve done and take it to the next level.”

Ricketts said he will again introduce a plan to ease pressure on property taxpayers, a major concern raised by constituents on the campaign trail but one the governor and lawmakers have struggled to fully address.

Ricketts said he still likes some of the ideas floated in past years, including a proposal that would tax farmland based on the potential income it can generate instead of its market value, which can be inflated. He also supports using state money for a refundable tax credit that would offset some of what property owners have to pay.

Both ideas stalled in the Legislature, but Ricketts hinted that he might resurrect them.

“There’s no single, silver-bullet solution that addresses all the issues with regard to property tax relief,” Ricketts said. “There are a lot of good ideas out there. The question is what we can pull together for that consensus... to get a bill to my desk.”

Ricketts said he will reveal more details about his plan during his annual State of the State address to lawmakers on Jan. 15.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer said he expects a lot of debate over property taxes in the session that begins Wednesday, but a tight state budget will make it difficult to pass any major changes in one year. Lawmakers face a projected $95 million state revenue shortfall in the upcoming budget.

“Many senators want something substantial,” said Scheer, a Republican from Norfolk. “But when we’re starting at a deficit, I don’t see a way to produce those types of results without some sort of cuts elsewhere or finding another source of revenue.”

Ricketts and lawmakers may also disagree over how to pay for property tax cuts. Ricketts said he will oppose any measure that raises other taxes to cover the cost, but some senators say that’s the best way to rebalance a tax system that relies too heavily on property owners.

Sen. Tom Briese, of Albion, said the state should consider eliminating sales tax exemptions on a variety of items, such as candy, soft drinks and lawn-care services, and increase the state’s cigarette tax. The state should use the additional revenue to ease property taxes on farmers, ranchers and homeowners, he said.

“Nebraskans deserve a strong, balanced tax structure, and they don’t have it now,” Briese said.

Ricketts said he’ll also include funding in his budget to expand Medicaid in Nebraska after voters approved the measure in November. Ricketts has for years opposed Medicaid expansion, and some supporters of the expansion have expressed concern that the governor and others might try to sabotage the measure before it’s implemented in Nebraska.

Ricketts said his administration has launched a website to notify the public about the expansion and is working with the federal government, which must approve the state’s request to amend its current Medicaid program before the change can be implemented.

“It’s going to be a big part of our budget going forward, and it will have to fit in along with all of our other spending priorities,” Ricketts said.

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Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte

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