Gov. Pete Ricketts denies his political activity overly influenced the legislative session and vows to keep working to pass tax relief.
Ricketts says there’s nothing new with a governor getting involved in legislative races.
“I think what you see is that voters sent people that more reflected their district and, frankly, the legislature is more conservative, which more accurately reflects the conservative nature of our state,” Ricketts tells Nebraska Radio Network in an interview.
Accusations that Ricketts overly influence the legislature began as the session began. They intensified toward the end and spilled over into legislative floor debate during the attempt to override the governor on $32.7 million of the $56.5 million in line-item budget vetoes he made.
Legislators backed by Ricketts helped sustain his line-item budget vetoes.
Ricketts defends his action, stating he simply used his line-item budget veto authority to bring the $8.9 billion budget approved by the Unicameral back to the spending level he had recommended at the beginning of the session.
Ricketts claims critics have distorted the cuts, especially cuts to Medicaid providers, such as hospitals and nursing homes. Ricketts says his decision was made after the Department of Health and Human Services reviewed its programs over a six-month period. Ricketts says he did not cut provider rates, he cut the pool of money used to pay providers. The governor insists HHS knows how best to distribute the money to have the least harmful impact on providers.
Ricketts couldn’t hold the votes needed to pass his tax relief package.
He says he will work to find the modifications needed to succeed next year.
“Well, we were very close,” Ricketts says. “At one point, we thought we had enough votes to overcome that filibuster, but clearly when it came down to voting, we lost some people, so we have to go back and see what are the things we have to do to be able to draw those votes back in.”
Ricketts had proposed to cut the top income tax rate by 1% over a period of years. He also proposed a shift in the valuation method for agricultural land, used to determine property taxes. Ricketts proposed a shift away from market-based valuations to valuations based on the income potential of the land.
Ricketts couldn’t convince enough legislators to support the plan during a down budget year, even though he promised not to have the tax cut take effect in any year in which state revenue wasn’t projected to grow by at least 3 ½%. He also lost support from some rural senators who insisted the state focus on property tax relief before considering a cut to the state income tax.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]