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Ricketts, Stinner address state budget
August 26, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Gov. Pete Ricketts, accompanied by state Sen. John Stinner, breaks down the state budget at a town hall meeting in Scottsbluff on, Tuesday, August 23.

Nebraska faces some challenges as state revenues came in $95 million below forecast for the end of the fiscal year on June 30. July wasn’t much better.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and State Sen. John Stinner addressed the state’s dilemma and other issues during a town hall event on Aug. 23 at Western Nebraska Community College.

Prior to the public meeting, the governor fielded some questions from the media.

“We’ll have to look at how tax relief and everything we want to accomplish fits into the overall budget,” Ricketts said. “People across the state still tell me taxes, including property tax, are their biggest concern. “The only way we can have sustainable property tax relief or any sort of tax relief is by controlling expenses, allowing revenue to grow faster than expenses.”

Ricketts pointed out that during the last budget cycle, the state cut the growth of government nearly in half, from 6.5 percent in the previous budget to 3.6 percent in the current budget. That made it possible for the state to increase the property tax credit relief fund.

“That’s the same way we’re going to have to look at tax relief going forward and how we can continue to be competitive,” he said.

Ricketts was asked about the budget formula for support of the state’s community colleges as a component of property taxes. He said the community colleges provide a great benefit not only in traditional coursework, but also in teaching the skills for young people to go into the skilled trades. Aid to community colleges is about $100 million a year, or two percent of the state budget. When state aid for K-12 education and for the state’s university system are added in, it accounts for about 45 percent of the state budget.

“Just like everyone else, the community colleges have to control their expenses,” Ricketts said. “Over the past 10 years on the whole, they’ve increased their local property taxes by nearly 13 percent a year. That’s just not sustainable.”

Ricketts added the state doesn’t expect much improvement in the revenue forecast over the next biennium. Consequently, the state will continually monitor tax receipts coming in and continue to tighten its budgets.

“I don’t see the need for a special session of the Legislature to address the budget shortfall,” Ricketts said. “We’re sitting on a healthy cash reserve we can use. We didn’t have that reserve in previous years when we did have to call a special session.”

District 48 State Senator John Stinner also spoke to the town hall and complimented the governor on his choice of department heads that continue to look for ways to cut their department budgets.

“With help from the Department of Roads, we passed a significant piece of legislation in the Transportation Innovation Act,” Stinner said. “This fast tracks highway design and construction, including the Heartland Expressway.”

He added the Legislature also has the responsibility to take a hard look at every spending category and prioritize what’s most important.

“This is a challenge, but it’s also a positive,” he said. “We need to look at new ways of thinking, especially in technology, to realize cost savings. But it’s going to take some time.”
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