SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. - (KNEP) - Governor Pete Ricketts made a stop in Scottsbluff for a town hall meeting and update the public on the ongoing property tax discussions.
Governor Ricketts began the town hall by talking about the disaster relief efforts going on throughout the state. He added there is $85 million in damage and so far they have received $75 million in assistance. The week after the storm, 275 miles of roads and 15 bridges were closed. Governor Ricketts boasted all but 11 miles of roads are now open but 12 bridges remain closed. He added they are working on temporary bridges to be built by August to help agricultural equipment get through those affected areas.
From there the Governor got into the meat of his town hall and first explained his four pillar approach to creating an effective state. Those pillar including great paying jobs, running the government like a business, providing tax relief and promoting the state to others.
A majority of the meeting was spent on the third pillar and the ongoing talking of property tax relief. Governor Ricketts stated that lawmakers want to hold tax increases for spending. He held charts that showed state aid increasing in some years and not seeing a decrease or a stagnation of school district property taxes.
Governor Ricketts believes property tax relief includes a property tax credit relief fund. He proposed to legislation $102 million for the next two years; that’s $51 million for each year. The legislature at first cut that per year number in half but Governor Ricketts was able to get it back.
He also believes the government needs expense control. That would come in the form of a couple of things. One of them being what he has proposed which is a constitutional amendment to allow the people to vote on limiting their property taxes.
Another is ag land valuation which has gone up over 252% in the last ten years. This affects the equalization of school districts. Governor Ricketts added of the 244 school districts in the state only 84 are equalized with many of the rural districts being left out. He proposes that they add in a per student part to the equation. He also believes that the ag land needs to be based off of predictions like other states have it compared to the current system which is based on sales.
The property tax debate has included multiple senators looking into tax increases on bottled water and other items that Governor Ricketts believes are everyday items that Nebraskans use. He stated senators are proposing a 56% tax increase on cigarettes, which Governor Ricketts points out, half of those paying now have an annual income of less than $35,000.
Overall, he believes a change is needed to give property tax relief. Governor Ricketts also spoke about a new program called SNAP Next Step. It’s a voluntary program that gives individuals on food assistance programs the chance to speak to a job coach. So far through the program, they have seen 36% of families that used it actually get off assistance and see an increase of $10,000 a year in their salary. They hope to have the program statewide by the end of the year.
Before the town hall wrapped up, a question and answer discussion led to talk about the state legalizing medical marijuana. Governor Ricketts spoke on statistics from what other states like Colorado are seeing in regards to the issue and spoke that much more research needs to be done before a decision is made.