Nebraskans were at their finest in facing the spring floods the most widespread and costliest natural disaster in state history, Gov. Pete Ricketts said in North Platte Wednesday.
Ricketts is on a three-day trip around the state following his annual address to the Legislature, enumerating his main points and taking questions.
The bomb cyclone and spring floods threatened to cripple parts of Nebraska, but residents, officials and volunteers joined hands to help each other, he said. Nebraskans showed the world what it truly means to be Nebraska Strong.
Beyond that, agriculture dealt with other setbacks — a fire at a beef processing plant in Kansas depressed beef prices and hit ranch families hard.
An irrigation tunnel collapsed in eastern Wyoming, threatening the state’s sugar beet industry and hundreds of farm operations. Trade uncertainty shifted the focus towards diversifying markets for Nebraska’s ag producers. Lax enforcement of a robust Renewable Fuel Standard has made for a difficult year for corn growers.
Nevertheless, in 2019, Nebraska outpaced the national rate for GDP growth.
In March, Nebraska marked the first month ever that 1 million unique individuals were employed in our state.
In October, more than 15,000 new jobs were added, the fastest year-over-year job growth since 2015. Companies such as Costco, Google, Facebook and Veramaris invested in the state. For the third consecutive year, Nebraska had the most new investments per capita of any state in the nation.
Nebraska has also improved in the area of child welfare. The number of children in need of foster care in Nebraska has decreased by 18% over the last two years, helping to keep more children and families together.
Ricketts said his budget calls for controlled spending at a 2.9% increase over the next two years.
He called for property tax relief to the tune of $500 million over the next three years. He said local governments have raised property taxes 54% over the last decade, while inflation only grew at 17%.
He said $50 million will be needed in disaster relief to match federal disaster benefits, plus nearly $10 million for the counties who were hardest hit.
The audience thanked him for a bill to cut taxes on military retirement from 40% to 50%.
He called for $16 million for scholarships at the University of Nebraska, and he called for support for tax incentives for big companies, to expand job opportunities. He also recommends $8 million for scholarships for workers at state prisons.
A strong finish to the last fiscal year helped the state rebuild its cash reserve, he said.
In response to a question, Ricketts spoke up for immigrants. He said the Department of Homeland Security is doing a good job of vetting immigrants, at the insistence of President Donald Trump, and businesses say they are a valuable part of the workforce.
Another person asked Ricketts what safeguards he plans to take so property tax relief isn’t raided the next time state revenues fall below projections. Ricketts said he strives to control spending and prioritize excess funds. He said on the state level, he aims to see that revenue from reliable sources is matched with ongoing expenses, and short-term income is used for more immediate needs, to keep things in balance.