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Ricketts visits with local residents

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Governor Pete Ricketts visits with the community about some key points of the 2022 Legislature. Ricketts also had some time to address local concerns such as predator control and how to draw people to Chadron.

Last Wednesday, June 8, Chadron received a visit from Governor Pete Ricketts, who has been conducting “town hall” style events across the state to talk about the accomplishments of the 2022 Legislative session and address questions from residents.

Ricketts began the program speaking to how well the state handled the COVID-19 pandemic, attributing the response as one of the major reasons the state has been able to achieve the lowest unemployment rate in the country’s history at 1.9%. Lots of companies are also investing in Nebraska, he noted, which brings job opportunities.

State revenues have also set records this year, Ricketts said, as in April Nebraska collected more than $1 billion in gross state revenue.

Another point Ricketts raised is that government growth rate was kept low over the past eight years, allowing for delivery of sustainable tax relief.

One of the questions at the event was in regard to whether anything’s being done to help draw people to western Nebraska from the east side of the state. Ricketts said if one looks at how the Department of Economic Development is distributing grants, it’s fairly widespread across the state.

As to the low unemployment rate and the initial investment made into The Good Life is Calling program, it was questioned whether the program will continue to allow communities to continue recruiting the types of employees needed. Ricketts said a low unemployment rate means it’s hard for employers to hire people. He added there needs to be a focus on making sure the young people are educated to take the high demand jobs that are here in the state.

Businesses are going to have to start getting involved earlier to get the folks they need, Ricketts said, and there needs to be an educational pipeline so young people are educated for the jobs available.

Another concern raised was predator damage to livestock, It was noted that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has been doing a good job in providing trappers to keep predators down, and Nebraska Game and Parks does its part in providing permits for people to hunt them.

An issue arises with the low unemployment rate as it can be difficult to attract government trappers. Options are available, such as petitioning for a levy to pay for predator damage.

Ricketts noted predators taking down animals also has an impact on the availability of hunting game and that draw to folks. He suggested working with the local NGPC office and staff to determine what kind of financial support is available to help with predation control.

Looking at the 2022 Legislative session, Ricketts said it was historic in a number of ways. There were four key things, he noted, any of which would be considered historical by themselves.

”I think this Legislative session will go down in history as one of the unicameral’s finest,” Ricketts said.

The first point the governor spoke to was the passing of LB873, which rolled together several tax relief programs, among them the property tax relief program begun by LB1107 in 2020. Ricketts explained when people filed for Nebraska state income taxes, they were able to claim a 25% rebate on what they paid to the school district in property taxes.

Another property tax relief program was added based on what folks pay into local community health. Starting in 2022, $50 million will be put into a rebate program similar to the one with the school district.

“Citizens will continue to see property tax relief in Nebraska,” Ricketts said. There was also an acceleration of tax relief for seniors. Nebraska is one of the few states that taxes Social Security benefits. Last year, a bill was passed to take about half of those taxes off. As part of LB873, the other half was taken off, and accelerated how fast it would come in. By 2026, Social Security benefits will not be taxed at all.

The final piece of LB873, Rickets noted, will take income tax rates from 6.84% to 5.84%, and business rates from 7.5% to 5.84%, both of which will be phased in by 2027. By that same year, the state will have delivered $12.6 billion in tax relief all total.

Another item the Legislature took up was investing in public safety and law enforcement. Ricketts noted $47.7 million was invested in the Grand Island law enforcement training center. Another $16.9 million was invested in expansion od the Nebraska State Patrol crime lab. Another bill, LB1241, was passed and will trade reciprocity with out-of-state officers to come and work in Nebraska.

“If you’re certified in another state,” Ricketts said, “you can come and work for Nebraska.”

Also in LB1241, there is 100% tuition reimbursement for officers who attend state-run institutions, state income tax relief for officers over age 60 who are paying for their own health insurance, and retention bonuses for officers. Money has also been set aside to replace the state penitentiary.

The third key point is investment in water resources. The passage of LB1015, Ricketts said, gives authority to move forward on the Perkins County canal project. He explained the project is about building a canal from the South Platte River in Colorado to a reservoir system in Nebraska. This is based on a compact signed nearly 100 years ago, he said, but is now being pursued due to the growth on the Front Range in Colorado and the resulting drain it would have on the river.

The compact with Colorado, Ricketts noted, requires delivery of about 120 cubic feet per second from Colorado to Nebraska during non-irrigation seasons, but only if the canal and reservoir system is built.

“They don’t plan to give us anything, so we need to protect our water rights,” Ricketts said, pointing out this is not about getting more water but holding on to what Nebraska is already getting.

Other water projects being invested in are: developing a marina at Lake McConaughy, expanding the marina at Lewis and Clark Lake State Recreation Area, building a convention center at Niobrara State Park, and rebuilding the canal system between Fort Laramie and Gering that collapsed a few years ago.

The fourth key item is the $1.04 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The Legislature has allocated estimates of: $60 million to community colleges, $8 million for state colleges, $60 million for a medical center at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, $40 million in behavioral health facilities, $5 million in loan forgiveness for nurses and behavioral health staff, $100 million for shovel-ready projects, $20 million toward a site building development fund, $489 million for disproportionate communities and $128 million for housing.

Ricketts noted the High Plains Community Development Corporation’s recent housing survey as key in distributing ARPA money for more housing.

The governor also pointed out the Nebraska Rural Advantage Act has been “re-upped,” now a new limit of $10 million compared to the former $1 million. There is also $42 billion coming from the Commerce Department for rural broadband, he said, but one of the biggest problems is getting the people who know how to install it.

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