Governor outlines budget proposal, grow Nebraska initiatives during fly-around
SCOTTSBLUFF – After presenting his State of the State address to the Nebraska Legislature, Gov. Pete Ricketts was off on a six-stop, fly-around of the state to talk about his budget proposals for the state’s new biennium.
Speaking at Western Nebraska Regional Airport in Scottsbluff on Tuesday, Ricketts said his vision is to grow Nebraska.
“I want to help create more well-paying jobs to keep our kids and grandkids here and attract people from around the country to come here to make our state grow.”
Ricketts outlined four pillars that are needed to grow the state. One is connecting Nebraskans to great paying jobs and making sure they have the needed skills and education to take those jobs.
One of Ricketts’ proposals is to create the Nebraska Talent Scholarships program to help community colleges, state colleges and the university system attract more students in targeted programs from engineering to rangeland management, and from health care to computer information systems.
The second pillar is making sure the state is cutting regulatory red tape that only puts up barriers for job creators. One proposal the governor made is to combine some of the state’s agencies, like the Energy Office and the Department of Environmental Quality to better serve the public.
A third pillar would promote the state around the country and around the world, telling people Nebraska is the best place in the world right now.
The fourth pillar would make sure the state is acting as good stewards of taxpayer dollars. That includes holding state budget growth to 3 percent or less over the biennium with no tax increases. But the main concern among Nebraskans is still property tax.
Ricketts said property tax relief continues to top the list of what Nebraskans want. His proposed budget recommends a 23 percent increase in direct property tax relief for the next two years through the state’s Property Tax Credit Fund. Included is a statutory floor of $275 million for the fund.
The governor’s proposal introduces a constitutional amendment to limit property tax increases levied by local governments to 3 percent annually. If approved by the Legislature, the amendment would go to a vote of the people.
Ricketts’ property tax proposals aren’t without detractors. Renee Fry, executive director of the OpenSky Policy Institute, said, “A slight increase in the property tax credit program is not real property tax reform. Property tax caps tend to have unintended consequences, which is why many tax policy experts from across the political spectrum are not in favor of them.”
But Ricketts said his proposed cap on property tax increases is good policy, giving property owners economic stability in knowing what increases could be coming in years ahead.
Ricketts said he would be willing to work with senators who have introduced other property tax relief measures.
One of them, introduced by Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, is in the form of a constitutional amendment. It would mandate a refundable state income tax credit of 35 percent for individuals on their levied property taxes.
The bulk of property taxes, levied at the county level, go to support local school districts. Part of the governor’s budget provides new aid to K-12 public schools by fully funding the $103.8 million increase in the formula that determines state aid to schools. Annual aid to schools would increase to a record $1.1 billion.
“If you look at the total two-year $208 million increase in my proposed budget, $166 million of that has to do either with the school aid formula or the expansion of Medicaid,” he said. “By controlling our spending, we can make that commitment to tax relief.”
The other tax relief Ricketts proposed would provide a 50 percent tax cut for all veterans receiving military retirement benefits. Five of our six surrounding states do not tax those benefits.
“This is a step forward to make Nebraska more tax competitive and keep veterans in Nebraska,” the governor said.
Ricketts said his budget proposals are all about making the state an even more desirable place to live and work.