(Lincoln, NE) -- On Thursday morning, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts delivered his annual State of the State address.
In the address, Governor Ricketts gave an overview of his priorities for the next two-year budget, which include delivering property tax relief, veterans tax relief, rural broadband access and a new penitentiary.
Speaking about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ricketts talked about the measures Nebraskans have taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. He pointed to the state’s focus on keeping hospitalizations under control to assure that anyone who needs a hospital bed will have one. Ricketts said data show Nebraskans followed the suggestions of state and health officials, staying home to stop the spread of the virus.
Ricketts also pointed out Nebraska’s effort to move the state into its recovery, passing along the $10 billion in federal COVID-19 aid to Nebraskans. The governor said $411 million went to Nebraska businesses including family farms, while more than $80 million went to nonprofits and community organizations, including food banks and childcare providers.
The governor reported that Nebraska had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation. Unemployment in the state was at 3.1% in November, which Ricketts said is only 0.10% above the unemployment rate a year prior. To keep local businesses going, he said, the state also invested in scholarships at state colleges and universities to help develop Nebraska’s workforce, and gave allowances — like carryout alcohol — to restaurants in order to help them continue to do business during the pandemic. Ricketts also commended the Unicameral for passing several pandemic relief bills.
On the topic of property taxes, Ricketts said his budget “controls spending to a growth rate of 1.5%” and “delivers on the promise of property tax relief.” Ricketts said his current budget offers $1.36 billion in property tax relief over the next two years, with $550 million in direct property tax relief via the state’s Property Tax Credit Relief Fund added to the $597 million from the newly enacted refundable property tax credit.
He also said he wants to limit local government increases on property taxes to 3% or less. “Taxes are growing at rate that Nebraskans cannot manage within their budgets,” he said, reporting that property taxes have grown by an average of 4.46% annually in the past 10 years, amounting to an overall increase of 54.65%.
Calling the proposed cap “reasonable,” Ricketts said, “It is my belief that if the Legislature fails to enact spending constraints, the people of Nebraska will take matters into their own hands and strip local governments of their property tax authority. It’s happened before in the 1960s, when the voters stripped the state of its authority to levy a property tax, and it will happen again.”
Ricketts also spoke about putting forth three initiatives the state is working on to help its military families. Those measures include:
- Continuing to pursue becoming the new headquarters of the U.S. Space Command
- A proposal to completely exempt military retirement income
- Efforts to cut red tape for teachers in military families that hold teaching certificates in other states.
- The governor noted the success of a similar process allowed for out-of-state healthcare workers to help here during the pandemic.
The governor also proposed Nebraska invest $230 million to build a “new, modern correctional facility” to house the state penitentiary to hold 6,400 inmates, up from the 5,300 housed there today. “The Nebraska State Penitentiary is decaying. To help protect public safety and to replace the State Penitentiary, I am proposing that we build a new, modern correctional facility,” he said.
The governor said his budget also includes investment in public schools, offering $42.7 million to K-12 education over the next two years.
Lastly, the governor said he is proposing the state invest $40 million in the next two years to expand broadband internet access to 30,000 more households, bringing connectivity to “every corner of the state.”
You can read the full text of the Governor’s State of the State address here.
(Photo by the Office of Governor Pete Ricketts)