Governor Ricketts: Priorities for Nebraska Budget | Columnists

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The Nebraska Legislature has reached a critical point. In the weeks ahead, senators will cast important votes on a budget that will shape the future of our state.

On Friday, the Legislative Appropriations Committee released its amendments to my proposed budget. This week, senators will begin debating what to do with billions of taxpayer dollars. Specifically, they will decide whether excess state revenue should be used for more public spending or returned to Nebraskanians through tax relief. This extra income is not my money as governor. It is not Parliament’s money. It’s the people’s money.

As the Legislative Assembly enters this pivotal period, here is an overview of my budget priorities.

The financial health of the state depends on the responsible management of tax revenues. During my tenure, we passed four budgets that limited average annual spending growth to about 2.5%. Every year after a budget is passed, special interest groups lobby the Legislative Assembly for more money. Senators must say “no” to wasteful spending and stay focused on the priorities of the people.

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» Provide tax relief:

Thanks to the hard work of Nebraskans, our state has achieved strong growth and state revenues have been much higher than expected. Following last month’s revised revenue forecast, we are now expected to increase tax revenue by $1.6 billion more than expected by the end of the 2021 legislative session. This represents an increase of nearly 17% from our forecast. revenue for this biennium. When revenues exceed what we need to run the state government, we have an obligation to return that money to the people.

The budget presented by the Appropriations Committee last Friday allows the legislature to vigorously pursue this relief. I call on senators to pass three key tax bills:

LB 723 protects the income tax refund that Nebraskas receive for paying school property taxes. For the 2021 tax year, the refund is greater than 25%. Without action by senators, the refund is expected to decline in 2024. LB 723 would make this property tax relief permanent.

LB 825 accelerates our phase-out of Social Security income taxes from 10 years to five years. This will help our seniors in the face of rising inflation.

LB 939 makes Nebraska’s income tax structure more competitive with neighboring states. Just last month, Iowa passed legislation to lower its top personal income tax rate to 3.9%. With this change, our rate of 6.84% is now an outlier in the region. South Dakota and Wyoming have no income tax. Colorado has a flat rate of 4.55%. Kansas and Missouri have income tax rates that top out at 5.7% and 5.4%, respectively. Without unicameral action, our top tax bracket – which includes 60% of Nebraska families – will be 20% higher than any surrounding state. Given our labor needs, we cannot afford to move Nebraska graduates from state to state to take advantage of a more favorable tax climate. The Legislative Assembly must act this session to reduce income taxes.

» Nebraska State Penitentiary Replacement:

Senators must fully authorize the construction of a modern facility to replace the aging state penitentiary. The present penitentiary has lost its usefulness. The existing State Penitentiary has low sight lines which pose a safety risk to our correctional officers. Its utilities are unreliable. It is too outdated to provide the modern programs inmates need to successfully reintegrate into society. The longer the delay, the more expensive a new construction project will be – and the more problems we will have at the current penitentiary for inmates and officers.

» Protecting our water resources:

Colorado is moving full steam ahead on nearly $10 billion in water projects in the South Platte River Basin. This threatens to dramatically reduce water flows that Nebraskanians currently depend on for drinking water, agricultural irrigation, power generation, and the health of our natural environment. The good news is that Nebraska has a pact with Colorado that guarantees us certain amounts of water throughout the year. However, Nebraska law depends on the construction of a system of canals and reservoirs—known as the Perkins County Canal—along the South Platte River. Until we build the canal, the Colorado doesn’t have to send us a single drop of water from the South Platte River for nearly half the year.

I have recommended to the Legislative Assembly to fully fund the canal with a $500 million allocation this year. The Appropriations Committee included $53.5 million in its proposed budget. This amount will cover design, permits and land acquisition to move the project forward. I urge senators to fully endorse these pre-construction costs and allocate additional funds for the construction of the canal.

» Keeping taxpayers’ money in check:

The Appropriations Committee removed language from my budget recommendation to prevent public funds from being used to research, adopt, or implement state sex education standards for Nebraska children.

Efforts over the past year to implement sex education standards show that this concept is highly controversial among parents in Nebraska. Parents do not want their children to be inundated with unscientific political ideas on sensitive topics that go beyond proper health education. It is inappropriate to use their taxpayers’ money for the development of these agenda-driven standards. This money could be used for much better and less confrontational educational improvements.

Senator Joni Albrecht has proposed an amendment to the budget that would add this language. I encourage senators to adopt this amendment when finalizing the budget.

It is now that senators decide how to vote on these key issues. I invite you to contact your representative to make your voice heard. Their contact information is available at nebraskalegislature.gov. If you have any questions about my budget priorities, please email [email protected] or call 402-471-2244.

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