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Ricketts urges Nebraskans to file for tax credit, support water projects

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Declaring that "dark money erodes public trust," President Joe Biden called on Congress to support an election transparency bill now before the Senate that would require Super PACS and other groups spending money in elections to disclose donors who give at least $10,000 during an election cycle. The legislation, called the Disclose Act, would also ban domestic corporations with significant foreign control from spending money in U.S. elections. Speaking from the White House Roosevelt Room, Biden urged Senators to support the bill, warning, "there's much too much money that flows in the shadows to influence our elections," including foreign money. "Dark money has become so common in our politics. I believe sunlight is the best disinfectant," he added. The House has already passed the legislation and a Senate vote is expected this week. But Republicans have threatened to block the measure from passing. "And I acknowledge, it's an issue for both parties, but here's the key difference. Democrats in the Congress support more openness and accountability. Republicans in Congress so far don't. So far don't. I hope they'll come around," Biden said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts made stops in Alliance and Ogallala on Tuesday, Sept. 20, for town hall meetings to discuss property taxes, plans for expanding broadband internet access and current and future projects that he says will protect and strengthen Nebraska’s water resources.

“High taxes are like weeds, they choke out growth,” Ricketts said. “The No. 1 issue that people talk about when I started running for governor nine years ago was property taxes.”

Ricketts discussed how the state can fund new projects and provide some tax relief to Nebraskans. He also urged property owners to apply for Nebraska’s income tax credit based on their school property taxes if they didn’t last year.

“Just like a family has to manage their budget or a company has to manage their books, you’ve got to be able to keep revenue and budgets in line, and we’ve done that,” he said. “At the state, we’ve kept the growth of that budget to 2.8% per year on average.”

Ricketts urges Nebraskans to file for tax credit, talks water

Gov. Pete Ricketts points to the empty South Platte River near Roscoe as he speaks about water issues during a town hall in Alliance Tuesday.

Ricketts touted the state as having a “more balanced approach” during the COVID-19 pandemic that set Nebraska up for strong economic growth. He also pointed to the state’s unemployment rate, which is the third lowest in the country.

According to Ricketts, the state ended its fiscal year with revenues coming in $1.47 billion ahead of forecast. Since he took office, he said, the state’s reserve fund has grown from $400 million to nearly $1.7 billion, “the most we’ve ever had in our state system.”

“If you think about it, high taxes makes it hard to buy a home, makes it hard for young farmers and ranchers to get into agriculture and, in general, it makes it harder for the folks in agriculture to even benefit. If our farmers and ranchers are paying two and three times higher taxes than their colleagues are in Kansas, South Dakota or even Iowa, then that puts them at a competitive disadvantage.”

The state has been working to bring property taxes down through three state-level tax credits — one a direct discount on gross property tax bills, the others income tax credits based on K-12 and now community college property taxes.

LB 1107 created a refundable income tax credit that allows Nebraskans to get a rebate for property taxes paid to school districts. The first year, Ricketts said, taxpayers received a 6% rebate. Last year, he said, taxpayers received a 25.3% rebate.

“This year, we announced that you’ll get 30% back in whatever you pay into your local property taxes. In addition to that, we’re running a new credit for community colleges. So, you’ll get 30% back in whatever you are paying toward your community college.

Ricketts urges Nebraskans to file for tax credit, talks water

A crowd of nearly 30 gathered at the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center in Alliance to listen to a town hall discussion lead by Neb. Gov. Pete Ricketts concerning property taxes, broadband internet and projects to protect water resources.

“What we have noticed is that not everybody is filling out those credits when you’re filling out your state income taxes. Maybe because you didn’t know about it or your tax preparer didn’t know about it. My first message here today is that if you have not filled out your refundable income taxes on your state income tax form, please do so. If you have, please tell your friends, neighbors and co-workers.”

He said people can file retroactively to receive the property tax credit.

Ricketts also spoke about broadband, which he called “basic infrastructure” today.

“No matter the distance Nebraskans live from a city, they should have access to the digital tools they need to live, learn and do business,” Ricketts said, saying that a 2018 evaluation showed significant gaps in basic broadband access in areas of the state.

Ricketts urges Nebraskans to file for tax credit, talks water

Gov. Pete Ricketts during the town hall meeting at the Knight Museum and Sandhills Center in Alliance. 

“We started working on what we could do to bridge that gap,” he said. “This is like rural electrification or rural telephone back in the 1930s — we have to have it. It’s a basic part of what we do as far as our society. So the state has to help make sure that we can get every Nebraska household connected.”

In 2020, the state used $30 million of federal CARES Act pandemic relief funds to connect 17,600 households across Nebraska. In 2021, the Legislature passed the Rural Broadband Bridge Act was passed and dedicated $40 million to connect 30,000 more households.

“Specifically, here in Box Butte County, Mobius (Communications) has gotten about $1 million from that grant funding to be able to connect some of those households and I think they have about $2.3 million pending in grant applications,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts also highlighted water issues, noting the state’s heavy dependence on agriculture. One in four jobs in the state is tied to agriculture, he said.

“We are also the largest irrigated state with 9 million acres. Three of every eight of our farmland acres is irrigated. So we are heavily dependent on making sure that we use our water effectively, and we have done a great job on that here in Nebraska.”

Nebraska’s position on the largest underground aquifer in the world — the Ogallala Aquifer — is important. He said Nebraska has done a good job of managing the aquifer, saying that its levels are within 1 foot of those in the 1950s. However, Ricketts argued that Colorado “basically mines” its aquifer and that it is 15 feet down from 1950s levels.

Ricketts pointed to the Perkins County Canal project, which he said is among projects designed to “conserve our water and manage it in a way that we’ll have it for future generations.”

The project dates back to a canal that was begun over 100 years ago to take water from the South Platte River in Colorado and connect it to Nebraska’s reservoir system. “One hundred years ago there was a lot of fighting over that water in the South Platte, so Nebraska and Colorado signed a compact in 1923 that was approved up by the Colorado Legislature, our Legislature and the U.S. Congress.”

The 1923 agreement states that Nebraska is entitled to 120 cubic feet per second from Colorado’s portion of the South Platte River from April 1 to Oct. 15 during the irrigation season. In addition, if Nebraska builds a canal, the state is entitled to 500 cfs during the non-irrigation season.

“The state of Nebraska has never taken that opportunity to build a canal,” he said. “We actually have eminent domain and authority to build that canal in Colorado, but we’ve never done it, until now.”

Citing Colorado action to study its water needs, its growth and purchasing of water rights, Ricketts said efforts by Colorado could limit the flow of water from the South Platte River by as much as 90%.

“That’s Colorado’s intention,” he said. “In HB16-1256, they clearly say that they are going to give us no more water than is legally required and their legal requirement right now is just the 120 cubic feet per second.”

Ricketts has asked the Nebraska Legislature for $500 million to build a new canal.

“The Legislature has given us $53.5 million to be able to start working on design work, getting options on land in Colorado, and also starting the permitting process. This is a long-term project that will take about 10 years to build, but it’s the only way that we can ensure that Colorado will give us the land that we are entitled. We have to build a reservoir so when they deliver that 500 cubic feet per second during the off season, we can manage it so on years like this year, where it is abnormally dry across the state, we would be able to let it out of this reservoir at our time.”

Ricketts pointed to a current picture of dry beds of the South Platte River near Roscoe as evidence that Colorado is not meeting its obligation for releasing water to Nebraska.

If the South Platte River does not have any water, then the state is more reliant on the North Platte River, he said, which means that everybody in the Panhandle gets cut back.

Ricketts said, “We have the money to pay for this, we know Colorado is trying to take the water and we have a drought — so all of these things are coming together at the right time to say, ‘This is the right time and we have to deal with this.’”

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