Growing Nebraska for the Next Generation


By Governor Pete Ricketts

Nebraska continues to grow!  Last week, the Department of Labor and Department of Economic Development joined me to announce that Nebraska’s non-farm employment reached a new milestone last year: 1,000,000 jobs.  We did not reach this point overnight.  It came to us over the years through a lot of hard work and leadership from many across the state.  This collaboration has created a national reputation for Nebraska as a great place for job creators and families looking to live, work, and raise their children.

 

Over the last year, Forbes ranked Nebraska third among the best states to do business nationally and CNBC named us the seventh best state for business.  Recently, Money-Rates.com ranked Nebraska as the third best state for millennials citing Nebraska’s second lowest-in-the-nation ranking for young adult unemployment.  Overall, Nebraska has the third lowest unemployment rate in the nation.  Additionally, Nebraska has been receiving attention for the growing Silicon Prairie movement, which has fostered an environment for young entrepreneurs and startups.  Forbes ranked Nebraska third for Fastest-Growing States for Tech Jobs in 2015, and both Lincoln and Omaha have received similar national recognition.

 

Nebraska did not receive these rankings by accident, and we must continue to work to create an event better environment for the job creators who are helping grow our state.  One area Nebraska can improve upon is our tax climate.  The Tax Foundation ranks Nebraska 26th highest for income tax and 12th highest for property tax.  There is nothing competitive about high taxes.  We have made progress in the last two years in providing tax relief, however, it is imperative we look for ways for the state to continue to provide additional relief.  To cut taxes, we must continue to control spending.  This last biennium, the Legislature and I cut the rate of growth in spending by about half to 3.6 percent.  This summer and fall, my agencies and I are working to craft a budget for the next biennium that continues to constrain state spending.

 

In addition to providing tax relief and controlling spending, my administration has been working to make government more effective, efficient, and customer-focused over the past year and a half.  Last year, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality launched online permitting for a number of environmental quality permits used by businesses.  The agency has reduced the amount of time it takes to deliver certain permits from months and weeks to a single day.  Working with partners across the state, we have pushed back on the Obama Administration’s attempts to implement the Waters of the U.S. Rule, roll out the Clean Power Plan, and cut the Renewable Fuel Standard.  Last year, I led two overseas trade missions, one to the European Union and one to Asia.  In November, I will be leading another trade mission to China.  These missions have helped attract additional job-creating investments in Nebraska from overseas investors.

 

In addition to these initiatives, we have also launched a first-in-the-nation reemployment program, which is helping connect Nebraska’s jobseekers with good-paying jobs.  The program provides one-on-one job coaching and requires jobseekers to create a resume that is searchable by potential employers.  One of the program participants, Jacqueline Smith, recently shared about how she found her job as a Marriott Reservation Sales Specialist.  I’ll let her words speak for themselves: “I had been out of the workforce for quite a while when I got started with the reemployment program.  I had a son with a lot of medical issues and I had to find a position that allowed me to still be a parent first.  I can remember the day very clearly when I got the call about the Marriott position.  I was very excited because I was convinced that it was going to be a very long process.  The position ended up being perfect for me.”

 

Jacqueline’s story is evidence that the hard work that our State of Nebraska team members are doing is having a real impact.  As we continue to work together to grow Nebraska, my administration will focus on lowering the tax burden, controlling spending, and making government more customer-focused so we can get government out of the way of job creators.  Next week, Nebraskans from across the state are coming together in Lincoln at the first annual Governor’s Summit on Economic Development to talk about additional ways to grow our state.  If you are not able to join, I hope that you will share some of your thoughts on how we can continue to grow our state by emailing pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or by calling 402-471-2244.

Governor Pete Ricketts

Governor Pete Ricketts

 

Nebraska is Growing


By Governor Pete Ricketts

Growing Nebraska has been theme of the first year of my administration.  That’s why I was pleased to learn recently that Nebraska added over 13,000 people over the past year for our 28th consecutive year of growth.  From 2014-2015, our population grew by 0.7 percent, second only to Colorado among our neighboring states.  This is good news because it means more people than ever before are choosing to make Nebraska their home.

 

In 2015, my administration focused on policies and initiatives to grow our state.  These included providing tax relief, supporting good-paying jobs, expanding educational opportunities, and making government more customer-friendly.  Thanks to the hard work of many people, Nebraska continued to excel in each of these areas this year.

 

Working with the Legislature, we were able to provide $408 million in property tax relief over the next two years through the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund, an over 45 percent increase from previous budgets. This is significant, but there is still more work to be done and I remain committed to working with senators to provide additional property tax relief in the upcoming legislative session.

 

This tax relief was possible because the Legislature and I assembled a budget that cut the rate of growth in spending by approximately half of the previous rate from 6.5 percent to about 3.5 percent.  Additionally, my administration is always seeking new ways to save taxpayer dollars.  This fall, we announced $5 million in cost savings that will be gained from reducing IT-related expenses.  Future tax relief will be dependent on our continued ability to constrain spending and hold the line on the growth of government.

 

Nebraska has the second-lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 2.9 percent.  This November, Nebraska hit a new all-time high for non-farm employment at 1,018,252.  Between October and November this year, Nebraska saw its largest month-to-month increase in labor force employment since 1976 when it increased by 2,818 jobs.

 

My administration also transformed our state’s unemployment system into a reemployment system to help quickly connect Nebraska’s job seekers with good jobs.  Our new reemployment system requires benefit recipients to create a resume that is searchable by potential employers, as well as make five work search contacts a week instead of the two required under the old program.  Job seekers also must sit down with a job coach and develop a reemployment strategy.

 

One of the biggest drivers of Nebraska’s strong workforce is our great education system.  Nebraskans can be proud our high school graduation rate is the second highest in the nation, and our state has earned the highest ACT composite score average among states testing over 80% of their students.

 

We continue to expand education opportunities for young Nebraskans.  This summer, my administration launched the Developing Youth Talent Initiative to foster partnerships between private industry and public schools to connect young Nebraskans in 7th and 8th grade to careers in the manufacturing and technology sectors.

 

Making government more customer-friendly is critical to creating a pro-business climate in our state and ensuring our state efficiently provides services for our most vulnerable citizens.  To this end, my administration launched new online services, published key performance metrics, and reviewed existing management practices and processes.  For example, Nebraskans can sign up to receive email and text notifications for vehicle registration renewals and businesses can now apply for some environmental quality permits online.  Furthermore, the Department of Roads will return an additional $3 million annually to cities and counties for roads projects thanks to changes made in our federal funds swap program.

 

Measuring performance in government is key to creating a culture that values improvement because it focuses teams on delivering the right results.  Metrics helped the team at AccessNebraska set performance targets and set a process improvement strategy that led to significantly improved performance.  The average call wait time for SNAP applications in the past three months has fallen below a target of five minutes.  We were able to accomplish this while maintaining our denial accuracy rate which ranks in the top ten nationally.

 

These are just a few of the many ways my administration has been working to help grow Nebraska in our first year.  As we enter 2016, we will continue to focus on these priorities and look for new ways to grow our state to ensure Nebraska remains a great place to live, work, and raise a family.  As we enter this New Year, I hope you will continue to share your thoughts with me about how to grow our state by emailing pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or by calling 402-471-2244.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Governor Pete Ricketts

Governor Pete Ricketts

Easing the Tax Burden


By Governor Pete Ricketts

One of the primary focuses of my administration has been providing meaningful tax relief for hardworking Nebraskans.  Whether I am visiting with ranchers at a coffee shop in Chadron or a small business owner at a town hall event in Falls City, I hear firsthand how Nebraska’s high taxes impact communities, businesses, and families across our state.  Easing tax rates even slightly can make a big difference because it keeps more of your paycheck in your pocket.  It helps the small business owner who is looking for a way to expand their operation or the family trying to find enough money in their budget to make their rent or mortgage payment.

 

These are the type of stories that motivated me to make property tax relief my number one focus this past legislative session.  Our efforts were met with success, and my proposal to deliver over $400 million in property tax relief – an over 45% increase over past budgets – through the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund received legislative approval.  This will provide tax relief for all Nebraska property owners.  The tax credit will be applied to your tax bill directly, and many will see the credit noted on their bills for their 2015 property taxes.

 

While this tax relief was significant and a step in the right direction, there is more still to be done.  The Tax Foundation’s 2015 State Business Tax Climate Index ranks Nebraska as 29th best in overall tax competitiveness as well as 12th highest in property taxes and 26th highest in income taxes.  These rankings show that Nebraska is a high tax state, and is, at best, middling when compared to other states.  There is nothing competitive about being middle-of-the-pack, and we must continue to look for new ways to bring tax rates down so that we can provide tax relief that will keep hardworking families here in our state and create more high quality jobs.

 

Right now, members of the Legislature are studying education funding and property taxes to develop proposals for the upcoming legislative session.  Last year, numerous proposals to make structural changes to how we levy property and income taxes were introduced by senators, however, no proposals that provide long-term structural relief advanced from the Revenue Committee.  This fall, senators have already discussed a wide variety of potential tax reforms ranging from a property tax revenue freeze to calculating land valuations on a 10-year average instead of the current 3-year average.  The conversation has only just begun, and senators will welcome your input as they continue to talk about potential proposals that could impact your tax bills.

 

As we approach next year, my team is working with legislative groups interested in tax reform, talking to tax experts, and preparing tax reform proposals.  In the coming weeks and months, I would encourage you to share your property tax bill with your local and state representatives as you have conversations with them.  Because property tax is a locally administered tax, long-term relief will require cooperation from both state and local government.  As we continue to look for ways to improve Nebraska’s tax competitiveness, I hope that you will share your ideas on tax reform with my office at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov and 402-471-2244.

Governor Pete Ricketts

Governor Pete Ricketts

Reviewing the Legislative Session, tax relief and agriculture


By Senator Lydia Brasch

With the legislative session completed for over a week now, the Capitol is a much quieter place mostly populated by visitors from near and far on hourly tours of this magnificent institution and structure. The hallways are no longer filled with the voices of student visitors from across the State with exception of Boys and Girls State and Unicam Youth Legislature students. Lobbyists are not watching the legislative chambers attentively from the rotunda or walking the hallways in search of a senator to discuss their interests on specific legislation. Most Senators living a distance from Lincoln are working remotely with out-of-session business. Trips to Lincoln for us include scheduled meetings, office needs, or interim hearings. Our District 16 office staff continues to keep busy with constituent services and research for next year’s legislative proposals.

 

This first interim update provides a brief overview of some key legislation debated during session worth repeating or received little or no coverage during session. Other updates will follow leading into what issues we may expect to see in 2016.

 

As this year was the beginning of the biennium (two-year period), the Legislature’s priority was the constitutional duty to pass a budget. The budget passed with an average 3.3 percent increase in annual spending over the next two years which is the fifth lowest increase over the last thirty years. Most of the spending goes toward education, Medicaid, university/college system, health and human services, corrections, and special education. The budget also leaves a projected $718 million in the cash reserve or “rainy day fund.”

 

Regarding tax relief, the Legislature granted two forms of tax relief, added an additional tax burden, and left unaddressed a number of other areas. The Legislature provided relief by increasing the property tax credit relief fund. As well, businesses and farmers will receive a partial property tax break on machinery, computers, and other personal property. However, the gas tax will increase 6 cents a gallon over the next four years. Unfortunately, the Legislature did not address the property tax burden shouldered by our farmers and ranchers which I attempted to address with LB350.

 

As for agriculture, the Legislature ended the session by addressing the issue whether to allow meatpacker ownership of hogs (LB176). The bill had significant opposition from some rural senators arguing this would be a death blow to small, independent hog producers and eventually lead to loss of independent cattle producers. The bill did not survive a second-round filibuster as it fell two votes short of cloture.

 

Next week’s column will continue covering legislation from criminal justice, the death penalty, education, health and human services.

 

As always, please contact me, administrative aide, Katie Wattermann, or legislative aide, Tom Venzor, with questions or thoughts at (402) 471-2728 or e-mail at lbrasch@leg.ne.gov.

 

Keeping the Good Life Growing in Nebraska,

Senator Lydia Brasch, District 16

Our First 100 Days


Governor Pete Ricketts

Governor Pete Ricketts

By Governor Ricketts

The first 100 days of my administration have moved quickly as we have focused our priorities and resources on a single goal: Growing Nebraska. As I have said before, the key to growing our state for the next generation starts with creating jobs, lowering taxes, pushing back on regulation, and expanding educational opportunities. To achieve these goals and objectives, we have spent the first days of my administration focused on hiring transformational and innovative leaders and building a budget that reflects the fiscal restraint we need to provide Nebraskans with the tax relief they need and deserve.

 

We are building a great team. With the help of an executive search firm and the financial support of Nebraskans across our state, we were able to identify directors for key positions in the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Economic Development. These leaders are already making a difference.

 

Here are just a few examples of the wonderful work my team has been doing these first few months: DHHS CEO Courtney Phillips announced with my office just last week a new transparency initiative that creates public performance metrics for ACCESSNebraska. The data will be updated online every month. This measure will help hold the program’s performance accountable not only to my office, but also to the people of Nebraska that this program serves. In the Department of Correctional Services, Director Scott Frakes is taking steps to upgrade software that calculates sentences to remove manual processes and reduce the probability of error in sentence calculations. Finally, Nebraska Department of Economic Development Director Brenda Hicks-Sorensen and Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach are planning the first trade mission of my administration which will take us to the European Union in June to promote Nebraska business and agriculture.

 

As a part of my budget recommendation, I put forward a plan to slow the growth of government and provide tax relief – the “3 percent plan.” If the Legislature holds the line on spending to around the 3 percent mark that I recommended in my budget while revenue continues to grow, the difference can provide tax relief to hardworking Nebraskans. Nebraska’s 2015 Business Tax Climate Index ranking by the Tax Foundation ranks us at 29th for competitiveness. If we plan to continue to create good-paying jobs for the next generation and to stay competitive nationwide and globally long-term, our business tax climate must improve.

 

I am pleased that the Appropriations Committee has adopted my recommendation to transfer an additional $60 million a year into the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund. This represents a nearly 43% increase and would bring the total transfer to the fund for the biennium to nearly $400 million. This is tax relief for all property owners in Nebraska. While the full Legislature must still consider this recommendation, this represents significant property tax relief if adopted. There are additional tax relief measures under consideration in the Legislature for which I continue to advocate, and there is still time for the Legislature to provide additional property tax relief this year.

 

During these past few months, we made some exciting announcements. A few weeks ago, my office announced that Nebraska attained the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, and this month it dropped even further to 2.6%. Last week we revealed that Sheldon Station in Hallam, Nebraska would become the first large utility to utilize hydrogen which will be provided by the first clean carbon black plant in the United States. This week, I joined leaders from the University of Nebraska to unveil Suji’s Korean Cuisine as the first international business to join Nebraska Innovation Campus. These stories are all great news for Nebraska and serve as evidence that our state is growing and vibrant.

 

This is just the beginning of our quest to grow Nebraska. As we work together, I will continue to listen to your ideas on how we can grow our state. Please contact my office at 402-471-2244 or pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov. I look forward to hearing from you!

 

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