Governor calls for property tax relief, new prison

Proposals for reducing property taxes, limiting local government spending growth and expanding state prisons highlighted Gov. Pete Ricketts’ State of the State address Jan. 14.

Ricketts praised health care professionals for treating Nebraskans throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Everyone that needed an ICU bed or a ventilator has been able to access one, he said.

The governor said his administration has looked for ways to expand Nebraska’s economy despite tough times.

“From giving licensed professionals more flexibility, to allowing restaurants to offer carryout alcohol, we looked for ways to grow our health care workforce and help small businesses survive,” Ricketts said.

This enabled Nebraska to have the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 3.1 percent — a number virtually unchanged from a year ago, he said.

A refundable property tax program, passed by the Legislature last year, will provide $596 million in property tax relief, but there is more work to be done, Ricketts said. He is proposing limiting the growth of local government property taxes to 3 percent.

“New local spending constraints are critical to ensuring the relief we provide goes into people’s pockets and to maintain local control in future years,” he said.

Ricketts said the state spending growth rate would be held to 1.5 percent in his proposed two-year budget. The budget would continue to support public schools, he said, with an additional $42.7 million for K-12 education over the next two years.

Saying that the current Nebraska State Penitentiary is “decaying,” Ricketts advocated for a new prison. Construction of the proposed facility would cost $230 million, he said, and is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

The governor also wants to make Nebraska the “best state in the nation” for military members and veterans. He said he would work with senators on legislation that would:
• invest $50 million toward an effort to locate Space Command at Offutt Air Force Base;
• exempt 100 percent of military retirement income from state income tax; and
• ease licensure requirements for military spouses.

Ricketts also said that 80,000 Nebraska households lack high-speed broadband internet service. He urged senators to support $20 million to expand broadband access.

“The pandemic has revealed how impossible work from home or remote education can be for those on the wrong side of the digital divide,” Ricketts said.

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