By John Celock
Nebraska’s governor used his annual address to lawmakers to declare property tax reduction his top priority, while also reiterating his opposition to the Medicaid expansion in his state.
Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) focused on economic themes during his State of the State Address Thursday morning, highlighting his first year in office and laying out an agenda for his second year. Ricketts joined a theme common among Republican governors to voice his opposition to the Medicaid expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act.
“We cannot trust the federal government to keep its commitment,” Ricketts said. A 90 percent federal match rate is not sustainable.”
Ricketts thanked lawmakers for rejecting the Medicaid expansion before and said that he hopes to see opposition continue in 2016. He said that he does not believe the federal government will continue the 90 percent reimbursement rate, a theme that has been mentioned by opponents in other states. Earlier this week in neighboring Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) voiced similar themes in his State of the State Address.
Ricketts said that he has seen other times when the federal government has reduced its share of a project, leaving the rest of the cost to the state. He said that Medicaid costs to Nebraska have risen from 2.9 percent of the state budget to 19 percent. He said the funds spent on Medicaid are taking from money that could be directed towards education or transportation.
The Medicaid expansion has passed in other Republican states including Ohio, Indiana and Arizona. On Wednesday evening, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) used his State of the Commonwealth Address to call on Republican lawmakers in his state to pass the Medicaid expansion.
Ricketts said that he does not believe the ACA has been a success.
“Obamacare is an example of government that does not work,” he said.
Ricketts used the speech to tell lawmakers that property tax reduction is his “number one priority this session.” Ricketts said he wants lawmakers to adopt a plan which would limit statewide aggregate growth in the agricultural property valuation to three percent annually. He said that high property taxes are hurting farmers across Nebraska, noting that agriculture is the state’s largest industry.
Ricketts said the property tax relief plan is needed given the other challenges farmers are facing in terms of commodity prices dropping. He noted that last year the state provided $408 million in property tax relief statewide.
Ricketts also focused on transportation in his address, calling for the creation of a transportation infrastructure bank to help fund “21st century roads and bridges.” He said the updated transportation system is needed to assist the state’s three biggest industries – agriculture, manufacturing and tourism. He said the proposed bank will help local governments with economic development.
“Last week, we announced a proposal for a transportation infrastructure bank to speed up expressway construction, improve county bridges, and assist companies with economic development. Also included are new tools to increase the efficiency of our construction process,” Ricketts said. “Our businesses transport our goods and services. Our farmers and ranchers deliver the food to feed our world on our roads and bridges. We get to work each day on our highways. We drive our children to school over our county bridges. Let’s help local leaders keep and attract businesses. Let’s pass the transportation infrastructure bank.”
Ricketts, a former business executive, used part of his address to focus on customer service in state government. He said that he has worked to improve how state agencies respond to residents and that he wants to continue this practice going forward.
“In every agency of state government we have worked to create a customer focused culture of new ideas,” he said.