VIDEO: Governor Rickett’s State of the State Address

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LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — Governor Pete Ricketts delivers the State of the State Address after a year of coronavirus and political upheaval. Watch his full report live online and on-air with KLKN-TV.

The main points Gov. Ricketts proposes the legislature focuses on for Nebraska are property tax relief, support for veterans and military families, healthcare licensing reform, updated correctional facilities, and broadband access.

Despite the recent announcement of Alabama becoming the U.S. Space Command Center, The Governor also says Nebraska hasn’t given up the fight just yet.

“Nebraska is still working to bring Space Command to the heartland. Senator Linehan and I are recommending the state invest $50 million towards establishing a public-private partnership to locate this important mission at Offutt Air Force Base. ”

See also: Nebraska nixed for Space Command HQ

Read the full speech transcription below: 

“Congratulations on the commencement of the first session of the 107th Nebraska legislature. I want to welcome each of you to Lincoln. Congratulations to Speaker Hiljers on your election. I look forward to working with you and all the newly elected chairs.

Please also recognize the newest members of the unicameral: Senators Aguilar, Bostar, Cavanaugh, Day, Flood, Pahls, and Sanders. Each of you brings a unique perspective and experiences to the body, and I look forward to working with you as well.

Looking Back on the Pandemic

As this session begins I know many are excited to turn the page on 2020. However, I believe that when we look back on last year. We will see a year that brought out the best in Nebraska. We began the year with high hopes of moving forward as we recover from the historic floods, 2019, but 2020 was interrupted by a new and unforeseen challenge- the coronavirus pandemic. Nebraskan’s took on this new challenge with the same spirit we have for generations. We rolled up our sleeves. Put our grit, tenacity, and determination to work. The Nebraska way.

Through it all Nebraskans have been using our tools to slow down the spread of the virus, such as social distancing, wearing a mask when we go store, washing our hands often, and staying home when we’re sick.

As we all do our part, the state has followed our Northstar, protecting our hospital capacity. Over the last ten months we’ve pursued this goal by using our six pillars: testing, contact tracing, providing PPE, making quarantine space available, protecting at risk populations, and using Directed Health Measures.

Time and again, history shows Nebraskans respond by doing the right thing, and the pandemic has been no different. Our health care workers have stepped up heroically to keep Nebraskans healthy. Data shows that Nebraskans stayed home when we asked them to last spring. And now Nebraskans are embracing the coronavirus vaccine. Thanks to the individual contributions of countless Nebraskans, and our six pillars. Our state has successfully ensured that everyone that needs a hospital bed, ICU bed, or ventilator has had access to it. This approach has helped to strike that balance between slowing the spread of the virus and allowing people to live a more normal life.

Even as we’ve had to overcome the challenge of the pandemic. The work of Nebraskans everywhere has kept the state of the State, strong. While protecting hospital capacity, we’ve also been working to help Nebraskans recover. The federal government has invested over $10 billion in aid into our State. The State has tiered federal coronavirus relief towards $411 million in grants for Nebraska’s businesses and family farms. We’ve also provided over $80 million in aid to nonprofit and community-based organizations, ranging from food banks to child care providers, while battling the coronavirus.

We’ve kept building on our efforts to grow Nebraska, even in the midst of tough circumstances. We’ve seen new opportunities developing for our workforce with the creation of over 2,280 career scholarships at our State’s colleges and universities to help train the next generation of leaders.

We’ve made it easy to do business in Nebraska. By continuing to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of State government services. This has helped us attract major investments from companies like Becton Dickinson in Holdredge to Hormel in Papillion, just to name a couple. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been cutting red tape to keep Nebraskans working. From giving licensed professionals more flexibility to allowing restaurants to offer carry-out alcohol, we’ve looked for ways to grow our healthcare workforce and to keep small businesses and help them survive.

The jobs being created across our state has helped Nebraska achieve an unemployment rate that is the lowest in the nation. At 3.1%, our unemployment rate for November 2020 was only one-tenth of 1% above where it stood a year ago.

This body is to be congratulated for the work it accomplished in the 2020 session, despite the circumstances of the pandemic. Even with these challenges. you were able to pass property tax relief, incentive renewal and reform, Veterans tax relief, flood relief, pandemic relief, relief for the tunnel collapse in the panhandle, career scholarships, and the most significant pro-life bill in a decade.

As the pandemic continues. We have an opportunity to keep moving our state forward. This legislative session, we will do this the Nebraska way by working together for the best interests of the people we serve. The next two-year budget I am proposing control spending to a growth rate of 1.5%. In this context, we can achieve several important priorities.

Property Tax Relief

First, property tax relief. This budget delivers on the promise of property tax relief by delivering $1.36 billion in relief over the biennium. This includes $550 million in direct property tax relief through the State Property Tax Credit Relief Fund, and nearly $597 million from a newly enacted LB-1107 refundable property tax credit. I’m also proposing roughly $214 million to provide for property tax payments under the current homestead exemption program.

But there’s more we must do to keep Nebraska on the road to realizing property tax relief. That’s why Senator Linehan and I are proposing to limit the growth of local government property taxes to 3%. New local spending constraints are critical to ensuring the relief we provide goes into people’s pockets and to maintain local control in future years. Property taxes have grown by 4.46% annually on average for the last 10 years, for an overall increase of 54.65%. Taxes are growing at a rate that Nebraskans cannot manage within their family budgets. It is my belief that if the legislature fails to enact bank constraints. The people of Nebraska will take matters into their own hands and strip local governments of their property tax authority. It’s happened before. In the 1960s, when the voters stripped the state of its authority to levy a property tax, and it’ll happen again. The limits we are proposing here are reasonable and will help ensure that local control of the institutions we cherish endures for years to come.

As we consider these limits, I also want to know that we can continue to support strong public schools, as I have done every year as Governor. My budget proposes to fully fund the state aid to the K-12 education formula with an additional $42.7 million over the biennium. We must continue to invest in the next generation of Nebraskans, so they can access educational opportunities that can help them achieve their dreams.

Military Families and Veterans

Next I’m proposing three initiatives to help Nebraska continue in its journey to become the best state in the nation for military families and Veterans. First, Nebraska is still working to bring Space Command to the heartland. Senator Stinner and I are recommending the State invest $50 million towards establishing a public-private partnership to locate this important mission and Offutt Air Force Base. Second, Senator Brewer and I are proposing that Nebraska exempt 100% of military retirement income for military retirees. This would complete the war on Veterans tax relief we began last year. And third, military spouses continue to face challenges in taking jobs in Nebraska and licensed professionals on a temporary basis. In recent years, Nebraska has made great strides in helping military spouses who hold a teaching license in another state to teach, while their families are deployed here. Senator Sanders, Blood, and I are working together to take new steps recommended by the Department of Defense to cut more red tape in this area.

Healthcare Worker Licensing Flexibility

Additionally, Senator Murman and I are proposing that we use our experience gained during the pandemic to expand our healthcare workforce. Early in the pandemic, I issued an executive order, allowing licensed healthcare professionals from other states to work here in Nebraska. By allowing universal reciprocity for out-of-state health care workers to continue, we can encourage more skilled healthcare professionals to choose the good life and to help meet our state’s needs.

Public Safety and Correctional Facilities

This budget also takes important steps to protect public safety. Nebraska’s corrections system has been under Bill for 40 years, and our infrastructure is aging. Working together, we’ve been able to make significant strides over the last six years. Investing in sentencing reform, rehabilitation, and the fiscal plan of our system. But more must be done to modernize and right-size our prisons. By 2025 Nebraska’s corrections system is forecasted to house over 6,400 inmates. Today, we have an operational capacity of over 5,300 and the Nebraska State Penitentiary is decaying. To help protect the public safety, and replace the State Penitentiary, I am proposing that we build a new, modern Correctional Facility. This facility will require an initial investment of $115 million in this biennium, for a total of $230 million by the time is completed and operational in 2025.

Broadband Internet

Finally, we must continue to invest in better community connectivity through broadband internet. It’s no secret that many Nebraskans still do not have access to broadband. Over 80,000 Nebraskan households lack broadband speeds of at least 25.3, the pandemic has revealed how impossible work-from-home or remote education can be for those on the wrong side of the digital divide. Over the last several months, we were able to use CARES Act money to begin connecting 17,600 households with broadband. Additional households are expected to receive broadband using existing resources over the next two years. Senator Friesen, Speaker Hiljers, and I are proposing that we invest $20 million in each of the next two years to help another 30,000 households get broadband connectivity. This will move Nebraska closer to bring broadband coverage to every corner of the State.

Property tax relief. Our veterans and military. Licensing reform. Public Safety. Broadband access. These are all critical priorities for us to work on this year. As the session gets underway, I am confident that we can achieve each of these in the coming days by working together for the people- the Nebraska way. Once again, congratulations on the start of a new session. I want to thank each of you for your service to the people of Nebraska. Together we can achieve great things for Nebraskans in the coming days. God bless you all. And God bless the great state of Nebraska.

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