Governor notes challenges, prioritizes tax relief

With a focus on encouraging economic development, providing tax relief and streamlining government, Gov. Pete Ricketts delivered his State of the State address Jan. 10.

Calling the state’s situation “strong and growing,” the governor pointed to several examples of the economy’s strength. The state has seen significant foreign and domestic investment, he said, and reached record employment last year. In addition, he said, Nebraska recently was ranked the fourth best state for business.

“Last year, Nebraska won the Governor’s Cup for most economic development projects per capita of any state in the country,” he said. “Nebraska had more qualified projects than North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas combined.”

In spite of these developments, Ricketts said revenues continue to lag behind forecasts. As a result, he said, lawmakers need to once again balance the state’s budget without raising taxes.

The governor said his mid-biennium budget proposal will include across-the-board reductions of 2 percent in the current fiscal year and 4 percent in the next. However, the proposal also will include targeted investments to address specific problems, including a troubling increase in the number of children entering the state’s child welfare system.

“In this budget, I am recommending an additional $35 million to Child Welfare and Public Assistance for this year and next,” Ricketts said. “We must take care of our children.”

In addition, the governor said, Nebraska should focus on cutting and reforming taxes as a key to economic growth. The state has the 11th highest property taxes in the country, he said, and Nebraskans need and expect tax relief.

Ricketts said his tax proposal would restructure existing property tax credits as a refundable credit on state taxes to ensure that Nebraskans – rather than absentee landowners – benefit. The proposal also would permanently reduce the state’s individual and corporate income tax rates, he said, and provide $10 million over two years for workforce development.

“We can bring relief to Nebraska’s families and businesses and help continue to grow our state. It is critical that we get the job done on tax relief this session.”

The governor said Nebraska also will continue to streamline government services and reduce red tape in an effort to make it more effective and efficient. Doing so signals that the state is “open for business,” he said.

Ricketts noted that challenges remain, but said the state has a history of cooperating to overcome difficulties. He praised senators for working together in the previous session to address issues important to Nebraskans and encouraged them to continue to do so.

“For over 150 years, Nebraskans have always come together for a cause bigger than themselves. We will draw upon their strength this year to address the priorities of our people.”

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