This week, Nebraska turns 151 years old. On March 1, Nebraska celebrates Statehood Day, the anniversary of President Johnson signing Nebraska’s statehood proclamation in 1867.We have come a long way since then, and there are many great opportunities to grow the tradition of living the Good Life this year. To ensure a prosperous future for our state, it is important that the State of Nebraska continues to cultivate a pro-growth business climate.
National rankings show some strengths we can build on as well as opportunities for improvement. Right now, Nebraska ranks as the sixth-best state for fiscal health according to George Mason University’s state fiscal rankings. According to the Tax Foundation, Nebraska has the 11th-highest property taxes in the United States and the 26th-highest income tax rate. Forbes ranks Nebraska fourth-best nationally for regulatory environment and the fourth-best state for business.
These rankings tell a story: Nebraska is a fiscally responsible state that does not create a lot of unnecessary red tape, however, there is more we need to do to become competitive on taxes.
Here are a few things I am working on with the Legislature to keep the Good Life growing in 2018.
First, we are working to balance the budget without raising taxes. The budget I proposed to the Legislature relies on existing revenues, and recommends across-the-board cuts for most state agencies to address a $173 million revenue shortfall. To prepare for these reductions, my administration has reduced our headcount by 500 over the last year and a half as well as eliminated 1,500 vacant positions. Nebraska’s families balance their checkbooks, and the state government in Nebraska has a long tradition of doing the same.
It is important to restrain government spending because the budget and taxes are two sides of the same coin. To have sustainable tax relief in the future, we need to control our spending. If we fail to control spending now, it is going to put the state in an unsustainable financial position in the long term, which would result in tax increases. This would be a step backwards for growing Nebraska.
There are two things we can do this year to address our tax climate. Like many other states, Nebraska’s tax code has many references and ties to the federal tax code. In December, President Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. When the federal tax code changes, many states have to adjust their tax code to avoid unintended consequences. That is why Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion and I are working to get LB 1090 passed. This bill preserves our state’s personal exemption, which was tied to a now obsolete provision in the federal tax code. If Nebraskans want to continue to have the option of claiming the personal exemption credit and avoid an over $200 million tax increase, the Legislature has to pass this bill.
I am also working with the Legislature to deliver property and income tax relief. Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion has introduced the Property Tax Cuts and Opportunities Act (LB 947). This proposal delivers major property tax relief over 10 years along with modest income tax rate reductions to make Nebraska more competitive.
LB 947 adheres to a key principle of real tax relief: Tax reforms should fit within the budget. Because tax relief in LB 947 grows as our economy grows, taxpayers will see true relief. Some other tax plans proposed this year simply shift taxes around or raise taxes to facilitate lots of new government spending. Neither of these approaches deliver tax relief, and I oppose efforts to raise taxes on Nebraska’s hardworking families.
Finally, I am also working with senators to cut red tape, so we can build on our reputation as a pro-business state. This past year, I ordered state agencies to conduct a review of all regulations and to make recommendations on how we could streamline regulations. Sen. John Murante of Gretna is carrying LB948, which reduces the number of restrictive regulations mandated by state law. Sen. Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha has prioritized this bill, giving it a great chance at receiving consideration by the full Legislature after committee review.
Balancing our budget, delivering tax relief and cutting red tape will set Nebraska’s economy up to grow for the next 151 years. Working together with Senators in the Legislature, we can make the Good Life even better. I encourage you to call your State Senator and let them know that you want to see these pro-growth priorities accomplished this session. Senator contact information can be found at www.NebraskaLegislature.gov. If you have thoughts you would like to share, give my office a call at 402-471-2244 or email me at Pete.Ricketts@Nebraska.gov.