Property Tax Relief Tops Nebraska Governor's 2016 Priorities

by | January 15, 2016 AT 10:50 AM

By Julie Blum

Providing property tax relief to Nebraskans is the governor's top priority this year.

Gov. Pete Ricketts told a group of people attending a news conference Thursday at Columbus Municipal Airport that his No. 1 goal is addressing property taxes going into his second year in office.

He spoke highly of Nebraska's current state, saying great strides were made in the last year. He pointed to an effort that cut the growth of state spending from 6.5 percent in the last budget to 3.5 percent this budget. Doing that increased the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund by more than 45 percent to provide $408 million in property tax relief over two years.

But that is just the start of what Ricketts wants to do. He detailed his property tax plan and other objectives earlier in the day during his State of the State address in the Legislature before coming to Columbus, which was one of his stops during a state fly-around.

He highlighted his proposal for property tax relief, which would put a limit of 3 percent growth on aggregate agricultural land valuations across the state and tighten spending and levy limits.

Agriculture, along with manufacturing and tourism, are the top industries in Nebraska. Ricketts said all of those rely on strong transportation infrastructure to expand.

"One of the ways we can spur economic growth is by making sure we've got a 21st century infrastructure here in the state," Ricketts said.

A way to make that happen is through the creation of a proposed transportation infrastructure bank administered through the Nebraska Department of Roads that would accelerate road and bridge projects. Up to $150 million would be used from the cash reserve to fund the program. The bank would be used to fast track highway construction projects, provide additional funding for county bridges and support new businesses by connecting them to the state infrastructure.

"Our companies bring their products to market across our roads. Our farmers and ranchers feed the world by being able to deliver their products. We go to work every day on the state highway. We take kids to school over our county bridges. We need to make sure we have 21st century infrastructure to allow our key industries to be able to grow here in Nebraska," Ricketts said.

Also highlighted by Ricketts was the state's corrections system. He proposes a $26 million investment in the correctional center in Lincoln that would expand programs to help inmates transition back into the community through job training, work release and counseling.

Ricketts also spoke against expanding Medicaid in Nebraska calling it "the single biggest, long-term threat" to the state's budget.

Under the Affordable Care Act, state participation in expanded Medicaid is optional. A coalition of state senators is working on a proposal that would use additional federal Medicaid dollars available under the Affordable Care Act to purchase private health care insurance for 77,000 Nebraskans who fell through a crack in Obamacare opened by the U.S. Supreme Court.

That decision gave states authority to make state participation in expanded Medicaid optional. At stake for Nebraska is an estimated $2.1 billion in federal funds over the next five years.

The federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs of the expanded health care coverage in 2016, with the federal commitment gradually declining to a floor of 90 percent in 2020.

Ricketts said Medicaid started out at 2.9 percent of the state's budget and has grown to nearly 20 percent. If it is expanded more, it will crowd out investments in other areas like education, roads and tax relief, he said.

(c)2016 the Columbus Telegram (Columbus, Neb.)