Today, Gov. Dave Heineman delivered his State of the State address focusing on the need for property and income tax relief, the reform of Nebraska's "good time" law and his opposition to Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.
The first priority identified is property and income tax relief. In his State of the State address, Gov. Heineman said, "Today, I am showing you how Nebraska can afford up to $500 million dollars in tax relief over the next three years because we have a growing economy, a strong cash reserve and we have worked hard to control spending."
Key points in the Governor's property tax and income tax relief proposal include the support of Nebraska Farm Bureau's proposal to lower agriculture land valuations and the lowering of income tax rates for the small business community and middle-class Nebraskans.
Gov. Heineman noted that the State of Nebraska has $1.2 billion in cash in its checking and savings accounts. "In rural Nebraska, record high property taxes are hurting our farmers and ranchers. However, we can help them by supporting the Nebraska Farm Bureau's proposal to lower ag land valuations from 75 percent to 65 percent. Nebraska's strong agriculture economy won't continue to exist with unreasonably high property taxes.
On the need for property tax relief, the Governor noted, "When local government spending increases, property taxes go up. We need our partners in local governments to slow the rate of growth in local spending in order to achieve real property tax relief. Nebraskans know that the Legislature does not set property tax rates."
Regarding the need for income tax relief, Gov. Heineman stated, "Nebraska's income tax rates are among the highest in America and higher than all of our neighboring states except one. Lowering Nebraska's income tax rates are essential to attracting higher paying jobs. Small businesses need lower income tax rates to help grow their businesses and increase jobs. Nebraskans need more middle class jobs in the $60,000 to $120,000 a year category. I am willing to work with the Legislature anytime, anywhere to develop a responsible and meaningful tax relief plan."
The second priority identified is Nebraska's "good time" law reform. Earlier this week, Gov. Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning announced that during this Legislative Session, State Senator Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha is introducing legislation that will replace the current so-called "good time" with "earned time."
Under current "good time" law, inmates sentenced by the judicial system to serve terms with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services automatically have their sentenced reduced by half for their term of incarceration. The "earned time" proposal requires inmates convicted of the most violent crimes must earn a reduction in their sentence. The proposed legislation would apply to inmates who commit the most violent crimes including murder, manslaughter, first degree assault, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, escape, assault of an officer, assault by a confined person, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, and similar offenses committed after the bill would become law.
"The public safety of our citizens should be priority number one and that should start with violent criminals being required to earn good time rather than automatically receiving it," said Gov. Heineman. "I have done all that I can administratively by approving a change to our good time rules and regulations that allow the Department of Corrections to take twice as much good time away when a prisoner assaults a corrections guard or another inmate. Now, it's up to the Nebraska Legislature to reform the "good time' law."
Also regarding the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, Gov. Heineman addressed Nebraska's current and long term prison capacity issues. To address short-term prison capacity issues, the Governor is recommending additional front line security staff be to ensure state employee safety and that the inmate population is continued to be safely managed. Additionally, current space is maximized by increasing the inmate population at the McCook Work Ethic Camp and by reducing the number of federal detainees in Nebraska's prisoner system. Finally, the Governor is recommending that the state contract with counties on a temporary basis to house inmates in available space at county jails.
The Department of Correctional Services continues to work on a long range master facility plan which will be completed later this year. The Governor noted that long term capacity issues are more complex and require additional study. Gov. Heineman stated "I am prepared to work with the Nebraska Legislature, the Nebraska Supreme Court, the Department of Correctional Services, and the Council of State Governments to develop a long term prison capacity strategy. There may be opportunities for our state to enact innovative solutions that ensure public safety at a lower cost for our taxpayers."
Finally, Gov. Heineman reiterated his opposition to Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.
"The responsible choice is to reject Obamacare's Medicaid expansion program. The U.S. Supreme Court said Obamacare's Medicaid expansion is optional. Expanding Medicaid will result in less future funding for state aid to education, special education, early childhood programs, the University of Nebraska, our state college system and our community colleges. Additionally, the federal government is already trillions of dollars in debt, and unlikely to fulfill its promised commitment."