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Investment in natural resources joins Ricketts' 2022 priority list
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Investment in natural resources joins Ricketts' 2022 priority list

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Gov. Pete Ricketts

Tax relief, workforce development, corporate tax reduction and pro-life legislation are among Gov. Pete Ricketts' priorities for his final year leading the state.

Beginning his eighth and last year as governor, Pete Ricketts is focused on his final agenda — and it looks largely familiar.

A limited and disciplined state budget, and some additional targeted tax relief with an emphasis on property taxes. But investment in the state's natural resources is also on the list now with a billion federal dollars sitting on the table in the form of pandemic recovery funds. 

Although Ricketts is cautious in identifying the specific projects he may support in advance of the unveiling of his final state budget proposal and subsequent State of the State address to the Legislature on Thursday, he has been meeting with the Legislature's adventurously-named STARWARS committee as it develops a package of water resource development proposals for senators to consider.

An intriguing new project on that study committee's list of potential targets is development of a large new lake between Lincoln and Omaha.

It has emerged as a new possibility on a list of water development projects that could be initiated with federal pandemic funding, all of which promise a lasting impact on recreation, tourism, flood control, economic development and water sustainability in the state.

Already targeted by the legislative committee are projects at Lake McConaughy near Ogallala and at Lewis and Clark Lake and Niobrara State Park in northeast Nebraska. 

Answers to his position on the water resources development proposals may be revealed at a news conference including STARWARS committee members Monday afternoon.

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During each of his eight years as governor, Ricketts scheduled a series of separate interviews with members of the Capitol news media in conjunction with the beginning of the legislative session.

This year's sit-down was held in the Governor's Hearing Room rather than in his office, with Ricketts carefully distanced and wearing a mask because of his recent exposure to someone who contracted the coronavirus.

Tax relief appeared to top his priorities for the final year of his final term.

And property taxes were first on his list.

"We've provided $2 billion in tax relief in this biennium," the governor said, with more than $1.9 billion in direct property tax relief dominating that total.

"That's a big deal," Ricketts said, "but we have more work to do."

Workforce development, corporate tax reduction, continued expansion of rural broadband service, construction of a new state prison and pro-life legislation are on his final-year agenda, he said.

The governor is also focused on a proposal to limit the growth of local government spending, primarily in public schools, to 3% annually, as an additional means of securing property tax relief.  

"We've been able to accomplish a lot even with the pandemic," Ricketts said in answer to a question about how COVID-19 has impacted his governorship.

First round of broadband funding to connect 12,000 Nebraska homes to high-speed internet

"Over the last two years, the people of Nebraska have done a wonderful job" of dealing with COVID-19, he said. "My administration took a balanced approach," Ricketts said, balancing restrictions with an effort to "let people live normal lives."

"I asked Nebraskans to do the right thing and they did," Ricketts said, allowing the state to continue to navigate its way through the pandemic in a manner that led a scorecard of states compiled by Politico last month.

"If every category were given equal weight — which assumes each priority was of equivalent importance, a policy choice in itself — the top scorer overall would be Nebraska, with an average of 73 out of 100, despite scoring below the national average in the social well-being category," the Politico analysis concluded.

Ricketts has been unwilling to venture into any discussion about his future plans until his work as governor is done, but he did acknowledge in answer to a question that he would prefer to remain in the public sector rather than return to the private sector, where he worked as an executive at Ameritrade before his election as governor in 2014.

"I love being involved in the public sector," he said. "We'll see what happens down the road."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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