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Ricketts talks taxes, Medicaid
April 15, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis

Courtesy photo Gov. Pete Ricketts stopped in Scottsbluff to meet with local leaders and residents on a four-stop tour through the Nebraska Panhandle.

Gov. Pete Ricketts was in Scottsbluff on April 11 as part of a four-city stopover to talk about some of the major issues at this year’s legislative session.

Before he gave his address, he fielded questions from the media on a several topics.

“The number one issue I hear from the citizens is property taxes,” Ricketts said. “Two bills that address that problem are being debated this week in the Legislature.”

LB 958 would direct about $20 million a year to farmers and ranchers. LB 959 contains some expense controls as well as doing away with the minimum levy adjustment, making more rural schools eligible for school aid. In turn, that would help reduce the taxpayer burden of supporting local school districts.

Ricketts also addressed his legislation to expand Medicaid in Nebraska under the Affordable Health Care Act.

For the fourth year, state senators abandoned health care reform designed to provide coverage for the working poor and other needy Nebraskans. Ricketts said he’s worried about federal matching funds for the program continuing. Without them, Nebraskans would be responsible for the entire bill.

Ricketts said there’s a better way to provide appropriate health care for all Nebraskans. “The solution the Legislature proposed this year was based on a failed plan in Arkansas that was unsustainable,” he said. “Within the first six months, that plan was already $137 million over budget. In Arkansas, 40 percent of the people are on Medicaid. That’s not what Medicaid was supposed to be for.”

He added a sustainable health care plan requires flexibility and solutions that are “out of the box.”

Ricketts brought up the Community Development Block Grant program, which allows local control over where state dollars are being spent. A program patterned along those lines might also benefit the state’s delivery of health care to its citizens.

Ricketts also touched on the overall reform of its corrections system. Scott Frakes was brought in last year as Director of Corrections to help with that process. “Legislation passed last year will help with more supervised release of people coming out of the system,” he said. “I also included a $26 million investment in the budget for the community corrections center in Lincoln. That will create some more beds and will also end the bad practice of a co-ed facility.”

He added the newly created re-entry programming space will help inmates coming out of the system to get the job skills they need to secure employment.

Director Frakes is also working with the Human Resources Department in finding better ways of retaining personnel at the state’s maximum security facility in Tecumseh. But Ricketts said there isn’t a silver bullet solution to the state’s problematic prison system. The governor said, “It’s going to take time to bring about needed reforms, but we have the right leader in place to get that done.”

Ricketts urged people to stay connected with their state senators and let them know what they think about the laws being enacted this session, which wraps up on April 19.
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