Ricketts picks taxes, flood recovery as top issues in 2020

In this May 31, 2019 photo, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts addresses lawmakers at the state Capitol in Lincoln, Neb. In the year 2020, Ricketts will attempt to lower taxes for homeowners, farmers and military retirees while setting aside money to help the state recover from the historic 2019 floods, the governor said.

The public is invited to Western Nebraska Regional Airport on Wednesday as Gov. Pete Ricketts makes his annual State of the State Fly Around to talk about the current legislative session.

Ricketts will be in Scottsbluff at 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 15 on the first day of a two-day trip that will also take him to Grand Island, North Platte, McCook and Broken Bow.

“The governor will outline some of his priorities for this session,” Justin Pinkerman, the governor’s director of media relations, said. “Property tax relief continues to be a high priority and also veterans’ tax relief.”

LB 153 was introduced by State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon at the governor’s request. If passed, it would exempt 50% of military retirement benefits from state income taxation.

“We’ve seen a lot of other states that have fully exempted military retirement benefits,” Pinkerman said. “We wanted to make sure we’re staying competitive to keep veterans in the state.”

The financial impact of recovering from devastative floods that hit eastern Nebraska in March will also big topic for discussion. Last week, 16 Nebraska counties were turned down a second time for disaster relief from the federal government.

“What insurance and federal help we have received has been very helpful with the recovery,” Pinkerman said, “but there is a responsibility the state has as well that will have to be budgeted for.”

He added that despite the floods, Nebraska’s economy outpaced the national average in GDP growth for all three quarters reported so far in 2019. A big part of that is controlling the state’s spending growth.

“When the governor came into office, spending was growing at an annual rate of 6.5%,” Pinkerman said. “That’s unsustainable without more taxation. But for the last three biennial budgets, we’ve held the average annual growth to less than 2.4%.”

Spending cuts, along with national economic growth, has caused the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board to revise its revenue projections upward. Pinkerman said that will be helpful when the state tackles big ticket items like property tax reform and flood relief.

Ricketts is also planning to renew his call for scholarship funding for Nebraska talent to make postsecondary education more affordable for students going into high demand career fields.

“We hear from employers across the state they’re having trouble finding the quantity and quality of workers they need to grow and expand their businesses,” Pinkerman said. “The governor’s plan is to work with the university system, state colleges and community colleges to develop scholarships specifically for those majors that will feed into information technology and manufacturing types of industries.”

He said the state is trying to develop a pipeline from middle school to high school career academies to apprenticeships and then through college to fill that marketplace need.

jpurvis@starherald.com

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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