Ricketts, Slama outline priorities at MRB Lewis and Clark Center

Julie Rach
Gov. Pete Ricketts and Sen. Julie Slama hosted a town hall at the MRB-Lewis and Clark Center on Friday, Feb. 14.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and Nebraska State Senator Julie Slama were in Nebraska City Friday afternoon for a town hall meeting on legislative priorities.

Slama and Ricketts outlined their priorities for the audience during the hour-long meeting.

Slama said one of her priorities for the second legislative session is the passage of LB 153, which would provide a reductions in the tax rate on military retirement pay.

She considers the reduction to be “a great step in the right direction.”

Ricketts said he would like to see Nebraska eventually eliminate taxing military retirement benefits, as five of the six states surrounding Nebraska currently do.

Slama said she is also focused on flood recovery, property tax relief and business incentives that will bring more companies and more people to Nebraska.

Ricketts’ vision has been to grow Nebraska so that people from around the country come here and make it their home.

He explained his Four Pillars of Prosperity, which grew from his vision. They are

Developing people and connecting them with high-paying jobs;

Running the state government like a business;

Providing property tax relief; and

Promoting Nebraska.

Ricketts noted that last year Nebraska had more economic development projects than both of the Dakotas and Kansas combined. If Nebraska had had four more such projects, he said it would have surpassed Minnesota, too.

He added that last year was especially challenging since 83 of the state’s 93 counties filed disaster declarations after the spring floods.

Despite those challenges, Ricketts said he considers 2019 Nebraska’s finest hour because  of  “the way people stepped up to help their neighbors.”

Ricketts then explained how some of his Four Pillars of Prosperity fit with the priorities he outlined in his State of the State Address in January.

He explained that the state is beginning career development with students in seventh and eighth grade.

High school students can take advantage of career academies in many locations, which offer college credit in addition to marketable job skills after high school.

He said the Department of Labor has reinvented the former idea of an unemployment office and made it a re-employment office, offering job coaching and resume building skills to those recently unemployed.

The program has been so successful, he said, that it has expanded to include families receiving SNAP benefits for food assistance.

He added that he has made the Nebraska Career Scholarship Program, which will affect 2,280 college students, a priority.

The program, which will begin in the fall with an initial investment of $4 million, will provide financial assistance to students who are pursuing careers in targeted fields needed in the state.

Another of Ricketts’ priorities is flood relief, and he has proposed $63 million to help pay for the state and county portion of the matching funds needed to qualify for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Ricketts also said he and the governors of Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas would like to see the Army Corps of Engineers put people and property as the top priorities in future flood control plans.

Typically, FEMA pays 75 percent of the repairs, and the state and county split the remaining 25 percent, but Ricketts noted that many Nebraska counties don’t have the funds to pay their portion of the repairs.

Another of Ricketts’ priorities is property tax relief. He has proposed $500 million in relief over three years. See page 2 of the Tuesday, Feb. 18, issue for more on the governor’s plan, plus a reaction from the Nebraska City Public Schools to the governor’s plan.

Ricketts explained that part of his vision for growing Nebraska involves leading trade missions to different parts of the world to open up new markets for Nebraska producers and also thank trade partners for purchasing Nebraska products.