Gov. Pete Ricketts proposed strengthening the state economy, cutting taxes, cutting regulations, and expanding educational opportunities in his first State of the State address.
Ricketts told lawmakers gathered in the legislative chamber he will bring his years of business experience at family-owned TD Ameritrade to work for the state.
“To that end, I’ve crafted a budget, a blueprint that slows the growth of spending, provides for property tax relief, has room to make improvements in critical areas such as HHS and Corrections, and also funds the essential services of state government,” Ricketts stated.
Ricketts outlined his priorities for this legislative session.
“I’m eager to work with you on four major priorities to grow Nebraska,” Ricketts stated. “The first is strengthening our economy and creating jobs; second, reducing taxes; third, easing regulatory burdens; and additionally, expanding educational opportunities.”
Ricketts said he was proud to add new State Economic Development Director Brenda Hicks-Sorensen to recruit business and help Nebraska realize untapped potential.
“But creating jobs is more than just a marketing focus or incentives,” according to Ricketts, “We need to evaluate what we’re doing to encourage small business to expand and grow. We need to have a plan to attract business investment as well as business relocations and we need to be strategic and aggressive about trade opportunities.”
Ricketts said there is no better place to start expanding exports than in agriculture.
Job creation in part, according to Ricketts, depends on a tax climate that encourages growth.
“We have a lot of work to do to stay competitive with our neighboring states,” Ricketts stated. “And staying competitive is something that is often overlooked when we talk about jobs. We need to attract new individuals and families to Nebraska. We have a great way of life and great jobs to offer. Now, we need to highlight these and invite people to come and make Nebraska their home.”
Ricketts has proposed adding $60 million annually to the state property tax relief fund. He also supports lowering the percentage at which agricultural land is assessed from 75% of market value to 65% over a three year period.
Ricketts also said two state departments in particular need a culture change.
Ricketts said problems with the Department of Health and Human Services prevent the state from fully addressing the needs of the most vulnerable.
“We need a culture in our state agencies that is people-centric. The people who we help don’t fit neatly into the silos we’ve created. They use services across all of our divisions. And we need a system that will help the entire person and help them reach their full potential and if possible, live a life free of public assistance,” Ricketts stated.
Ricketts added he is counting on new state Corrections Director Scott Frakes to suggest needed changes when he begins his work in early February.
Ricketts made a reference to the prison sentence miscalculation scandal that released hundreds of prison inmates prematurely.
“Inmates released early by mistake threaten not only the public safety, but also the public’s trust in their government,” Ricketts said. “Nobody in Corrections wanted these mistakes to occur, but they did, and we have got to do better.
Ricketts said Frakes will create a culture of accountability, common sense, and excellence.
AUDIO: Gov. Pete Ricketts delivers his first State of the State address. [30 min.]