Despite numerous challenges, from floods to ag trade uncertainty to renewable fuel standards, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said the state continues to be resilient and growing.
“It’s been tough times for agriculture, but our producers are pounding through it,” Ricketts said during a stop at Western Nebraska Regional Airport. “Last year’s blizzard and floods were the costliest and widespread natural disasters we’ve ever had in our state’s history. But we’re Nebraska Strong, so I believe 2019 will go down in history as our finest hour.”
He said the state continues to grow as the last three fiscal quarters recorded greater GDP growth than the rest of the nation.
“We want to continue that growth for the next legislative session and into the future,” Ricketts said.
He outlined four key priorities going forward: property tax reform, flood relief, retention of veterans in the state, and workforce and business expansion.
Increases in revenue and upward trends from the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board have accounted for about $266 million in increased forecasts.
“That gives us a tremendous opportunity to build on what we did last year to provide property tax relief,” Ricketts said. “By controlling our spending, we’ve increased the Property Tax Relief Fund by about $275 million since I took office.”
His proposal for the current legislative session is a package to increase property tax relief by $500 million over the next three years. That relief would be in the form of aid to K-12 education.
Included in his proposal is devaluation in ag land, as well as residential and commercial properties. Another $9.2 million would go for the state’s homestead exemption program.
Ricketts also touched on flood recovery efforts. More than $400 million of recovery projects affecting 84 counties are now underway.
“The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse us about 75% of the cost with the state and counties making up the rest,” he said. “I’m recommending $50 million to the Legislature to cover that cost.”
Additionally, the governor said he wants to invest about $3.8 million in reimbursement funds to the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District for emergency repairs to their irrigation tunnels from last year’s canal breach.
The governor’s third priority is veterans’ tax relief. LB 153, being debated in the Legislature this session, would exempt 50% of veterans’ retirement benefits from state income taxation. He said it’s not the 100% offered by neighboring states, but it’s a step in the right direction. It tells veterans the state wants them here. Many of them can retire from the military as early as age 38.
The governor’s last major priority is the need to continue growing the state. Since 2015, the state has supported a grant program encouraging private sector companies to develop talent from local school districts.
Ricketts said the idea is to take kids in high school career academy programs and give them real world experience while earning college credit toward future careers/
Ricketts is proposing a career scholarship program, working with the state’s colleges and universities. The eventual $16 million investment would target students for in-demand careers in healthcare, information technology, manufacturing and engineering.
“This is another way to show our young people here in Nebraska they can get their education here and make the decision to stay here in rewarding careers,” Ricketts said.