The first session of the 107th legislative session of Nebraska’s Unicameral came to a close in late May, taking what Gov. Pete Ricketts called “historic” actions, when he gave his annual “Sine Die” address on May 27.
Chief among those actions in the 90-day-long 2021 session, legislators tackled and passed the biennium state budget, which covers state spending and revenue for the next two years.
Ricketts said the session was historic on many levels, including how legislators continued to deal with COVID-19 challenges in the state, but also for notable bills passed regarding controlled state spending, property tax relief and broadband expansion, among others.
Farmers and ranchers could find several important legislative actions packed within Ricketts’ address. While Ricketts joked that the most popular bill he signed as governor probably was a law ensuring that the emergency COVID-19 carryout alcohol sales could continue after the pandemic ends, ag producers were deeply interested in the legislature’s work on the state budget and property taxes.
“The foundation of all of our work together begins with the budget,” Ricketts said. “We crafted a budget that provides for the important services we do at the state of Nebraska while continuing to control spending to 2.4% average annual growth. That is great work. And because we have continued to control spending, we have been able to work together to deliver tax relief.”
Ricketts reported that LB1107 provided in this year’s budget $430 million in property tax relief each year through a refundable income tax credit. “Combine that with increases in the property tax relief fund and homestead exemption, and we have offered $1.7 billion in property tax relief over the course of the next two years,” he said.
Including bills providing tax relief for Social Security, military veterans’ benefits, business tax rates, ethanol, agriculture and residents of the state, Ricketts said it is historic — and could be the greatest amount of tax relief passed by any Nebraska Legislature in the past quarter century or, potentially, in the history of the state.
“Eighteen-and-a-half percent of our budget will be going to tax relief over the course of the next biennium on an average basis,” Ricketts said.
Rural residents who do not have quality broadband were interested in legislation that will provide expansion of better broadband for up to 30,000 more households in the state.
“This will allow these households to be able to work from home, have telehealth, do homework, e-commerce and entertainment,” Ricketts said.
With up to 80,000 households operating below the FCC minimum for broadband quality, he noted that the state has more work to do to expand quality broadband to the rest of those households.
He also noted more work to do with property tax relief. “Property tax bills continue to go up,” Ricketts said. “Over the last 10 years, the average annual increase has been 4.3%.”
He challenged the Legislature to take up property tax relief in the future, and to pass a bill to slow the growth of local jurisdiction property tax bills.
Ricketts noted that the Legislature would be meeting again in the fall to take up census data and work on redistricting for the next decade of elections in the state. He thanked legislators for their work during the pandemic, and noted the state’s successes in spite of COVID-19, such as one of the lowest COVID-19 fatality rates of any state, the highest rates of students in person in classrooms nationally, and the lowest unemployment rate on average of any state in 2020 and continued on into 2021.
“Nebraskans stepped up,” Ricketts said. “They took care of their neighbors. They found ways to adapt business practices, and they made changes to their lives to slow the virus.”
Other important policies listed in a news release from the governor’s office of interest to agriculture producers and rural citizens include some of the following bills:
- cuts to taxes on Social Security income
- a new requirement for local governments to notify taxpayers whenever their property tax bills are scheduled to increase more than 2%
- a bill making it easier for hospitals and care facilities to meet their workforce needs by providing expedited reciprocity for many licensed health care professionals
- fully funding the state school aid formula, providing more than $1 billion annually in aid to K-12 public schools