Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts stopped by Alliance and Ogallala on Tuesday, September 20 for town hall meetings to discuss property taxes, plans to expand broadband Internet access, and current and future that he believes will protect and enhance Nebraska’s water resources.
“High taxes are like weeds, they stifle growth,” Ricketts said. “The No. 1 issue people were talking about when I started running for governor nine years ago was property taxes.”
Ricketts explained how the state can fund new projects and provide tax relief to Nebraskanians. He also urged homeowners to claim the Nebraska income tax credit based on their school property taxes if they didn’t do so last year.
“Just like a family has to manage its budget or a business has to manage its books, you have to be able to keep incomes and budgets in line, and we’ve done that,” he said. “At the state, we have kept the growth of this budget at 2.8% per year on average.”
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Ricketts touted the state as having a “more balanced approach” during the COVID-19 pandemic that has set Nebraska up for strong economic growth. He also pointed to the state’s unemployment rate, which is the third lowest in the nation.
According to Ricketts, the state ended its fiscal year with revenue of $1.47 billion ahead of forecast. Since taking office, he said, the state’s reserve fund has grown from $400 million to nearly $1.7 billion, “the most we’ve ever had in our state system.
“If you think about it, high taxes make it difficult to buy a home, prevent young farmers and ranchers from getting into farming, and generally make it harder for farmers to benefit. If our farmers and ranchers pay two to three times more taxes than their colleges in Kansas, South Dakota, or even Iowa, that puts them at a competitive disadvantage. »
The state has worked to reduce property taxes through three state-level tax credits – one a direct reduction on gross property tax bills, the other property tax credits. income based on K-12 and now community college property taxes.
LB 1107 created a refundable income tax credit that allows Nebraska residents to get a refund of property taxes paid to school districts. In the first year, Ricketts said, ratepayers received a 6% rebate. Last year, he said, taxpayers received a 25.3% rebate.
“This year, we announced that you will get 30% of everything you pay back in your local property taxes. In addition to that, we are offering a new community college credit. pay for your community college.
“What we’ve noticed is that not everyone completes these credits when you complete your income taxes. Maybe because you didn’t know or your tax preparer didn’t know. My first message here today is that if you have not completed your refundable income taxes on your income tax form, please do so. If you have, please let your friends, neighbors and colleagues.
He said people can file retroactively to receive the property tax credit.
Ricketts also talked about broadband, which he now calls “backbone infrastructure.”
“No matter how far Nebraska people are from a city, they should have access to the digital tools they need to live, learn and do business,” Ricketts said, saying a 2018 assessment showed gaps. important in basic broadband access in some areas of the state. .
“We started working on what we could do to close that gap,” he said. “It’s like rural electrification or the rural telephone in the 1930s – we have to have it. It’s a fundamental part of what we do in our society. The state must therefore help ensure that we can connect every household in Nebraska.
In 2020, the state used $30 million of federal CARES Act pandemic relief funds to connect 17,600 households across Nebraska. In 2021, the legislature passed the Rural Broadband Bridge Act and dedicated $40 million to connect 30,000 additional households.
“Specifically, here in Box Butte County, Mobius (Communications) got about $1 million out of this grant to be able to connect some of these households and I think they have about $2.3 million pending grant applications,” Ricketts said.
Ricketts also highlighted water issues, noting the state’s heavy reliance on agriculture. One in four jobs in the state is related to agriculture, he said.
“We are also the largest irrigated state with 9 million acres. Three out of eight acres of our farmland is irrigated. So we rely heavily on the efficient use of our water, and we’ve done a great job here in Nebraska.
Nebraska’s position on the world’s largest underground aquifer, the Ogallala Aquifer, is significant. He said Nebraska has done a good job managing the aquifer, saying its levels are less than a foot from those in the 1950s. However, Ricketts argued that Colorado is “essentially tapping” its aquifer and is 15 feet below 1950s levels.
Ricketts pointed to the Perkins County Canal Project, which he said is among projects designed to “conserve our water and manage it so that we have it for future generations.”
The project traces back to a canal that was started more than 100 years ago to take water from the South Platte River in Colorado and connect it to the Nebraska reservoir system. “A hundred years ago there was a lot of fighting over this water in the South Platte, so Nebraska and Colorado signed a pact in 1923 that was approved by the Colorado legislature, our legislature, and the U.S. Congress. “
The 1923 agreement states that Nebraska is entitled to 120 cubic feet per second of the Colorado portion of the South Platte River from April 1 through October 15 during the irrigation season. Also, if Nebraska builds a canal, the state is entitled to 500 cfs during the non-irrigation season.
“The State of Nebraska never took this opportunity to build a canal,” he said. “We actually have eminent domain and authority to build this canal in Colorado, but we’ve never done it until now.”
Citing Colorado’s action to study its water needs, growth, and purchase of water rights, Ricketts said Colorado’s efforts could limit the South Platte River’s water flow by up to 90 percent. .
“That’s Colorado’s intention,” he said. “In HB16-1256 they make it clear that they will not give us more water than is legally required and their legal requirement right now is only 120 cubic feet per second.”
Ricketts petitioned the Nebraska Legislature for $500 million to build a new canal.
“The Legislature gave us $53.5 million so we could start working on design work, get options on land in Colorado, and also start the permitting process. This is a project to long term that will take about 10 years to build, but that’s the only way to make sure that Colorado will give us the land that we’re entitled to we have to build a reservoir for them to deliver that 500 cubic feet per second during the off season we can handle it so years like this year when it’s unusually dry across the state, we would be able to let it out of that reservoir in our time.
Ricketts pointed to a current image of the dried-up beds of the South Platte River near Roscoe as evidence that Colorado is not meeting its obligation to release water to Nebraska.
If the South Platte River has no water, then the state is more dependent on the North Platte River, he said, which means everyone in the Panhandle is downsized.
Ricketts said: “We have the money to pay for this, we know Colorado is trying to take on water and we have a drought – so all of these things come together at the right time to say, ‘Now is the right time. and we have to deal with that.