Gov. Pete Ricketts touts tax relief, economic growth

Governor Pete Ricketts. Credit Gage Skidmore via Flickr CC by SA

Governor Pete Ricketts called for property tax relief and across the board cuts to balance the budget in his fourth State of the State address Wednesday. The bill would restructure existing property tax credits as a new refundable credit on state taxes, ensuring that Nebraskans receive the credits, not out-of-state landowners. And in the Legislature, lawmakers have killed the latest attempt to repeal the state's requirement for motorcyclists to wear helmets. Then, he got down to the nitty-gritty issues expected to dominate this legislative session.

In October, the forecasting board projected a shortfall of about $200 million for the budget year ending June 30, 2019. Last year, Nebraska recorded record levels of employment - "1 million nonfarm jobs" - while also the lowest unemployment rate - 2.7 percent - since 1999.

That would save about $77 million, and include cuts of more than $4.5 million to the State Patrol, and almost $35 million to the University of Nebraska.

"However, proposing further revenue cuts shows a failure to learn the harsh lessons of the past". "I have designated priorities for funding in the budget like K-12 education, Corrections, and services to help the developmentally disabled". "We did that last year and we must do the same this year".

Ricketts' budget would also include an additional $35 million for child welfare services. On Wednesday, Ricketts said Sen. Kate Bolz agreed that is a serious problem.

The governor said he will be forming a new child welfare task force to dig into the reasons for the increase. "We have to take care of our kids".

Ricketts credited those opportunities as the result of work done by lawmakers in crafting policies friendly to new businesses - cutting regulations, making licenses easier to obtain - and for the state's ambassadors reaching beyond USA borders to open new trade possibilities.

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But it was on taxes that Ricketts made possibly his most far-reaching proposals. "It's an urgent need".

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected farm income to stabilize in 2017, this follows three years of steep declines, leaving Nebraska's ag producers struggling to pay high tax bills. The bill calls for using existing tax credits to achieve a permanent reduction in both corporate and individual income taxes.

Ricketts urged the Legislature to once again "roll up our sleeves and get the job done" in cutting red tape, balancing the budget and delivering tax relief.

For farmers and ranchers, the plan provides a tax credit on agricultural land, farm sites, and improvements equal to 10 percent of property taxes paid with no cap on the amount of relief.

Today, January 10th, 2018 the governor unveiled his Nebraska Tax Cut and Opportunities Act which proposes an additional $10 million over two years for workforce development. He will introduce the plan in the next few days.

It is the second consecutive year that Ricketts has attempted to separate Title X funding from abortions. Those funds are used to provide birth control largely to low income women by organizations including Planned Parenthood, which would be denied funding under the proposal. If enacted, it would potentially cut funding from Planned Parenthood clinics in Lincoln and Omaha which provide abortions and any other independent clinics that provide abortion services.

"At the end of the day, the tax cut proposal is a guaranteed income tax cut for top earners and corporations, and the triggers put Nebraska on the unsafe path that led to serious budget issues in Kansas and Oklahoma and caused lawmakers in those states to repeal tax cut triggers".

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