Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday he achieved his legislative priorities this year and believes he's on course to provide Nebraskans with reduced taxation and a more efficient and frugal state government.
Ricketts views this as an eight-year journey, clearly stating his intention to seek re-election to a second four-year term in 2018 during an interview in the ornate governor's office in the Capitol.
"I certainly will ask for a second term to build on what we're doing now," the governor said.
Cultural change in state government "takes years," Ricketts said, as administrators improve at "running state government as a business."
And tax reduction achieved in tandem with reduced growth in state spending will require additional legislative action that follows patterns already established in the first two years of his administration, the governor said.
"We went four for four," Ricketts said, in achieving his priorities during this year's legislative session, which adjourned on Wednesday.
State spending growth that stood at 6.5 percent when he took office has been cut almost in half, to 3.6 percent, the governor said.
Another increase in state property tax credits will ease the property tax load for farm and ranch landowners, Ricketts said, even though he didn't gain all the property tax reduction he initially proposed.
And an education bill centering on the Omaha area also came with property tax benefits attached.
Creation of an infrastructure bank will accelerate highway construction with completion of long-promised expressways, Ricketts said.
Meanwhile, the Legislature rejected a health care reform bill funded predominantly by federal Medicaid dollars that would have presented "a huge, long-term risk to our state budget," Ricketts said.
"It was a team effort," the governor emphasized, pointing to legislative committee chairpersons as vital partners in achieving his agenda.
As he developed vital legislative relationships in his second year, the governor said, "my own team jelled as well."
"We want to do tax relief every year," Ricketts said, "and we will continue to focus on controlling spending."
On other matters, the governor said he'll be involved in at least four legislative races this year, supporting Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, John Lowe of Kearney and two of his appointees, Sen. Nicole Fox of Omaha and Sen. David Schnoor of Scribner.
Ricketts said he is not sure how active he will be in promoting the referendum proposal to reinstate the death penalty in Nebraska after it was repealed by the 2015 Legislature over the governor's veto.
"Obviously, I support that referendum," he said. "Now, it's up to the people."
Touching on a key challenge that was handed to him when he took office, the governor said he is satisfied with the pace of prison reform.
Ricketts pointed to creation of new programming space for vital job training, counseling, education and work release services to prepare inmates for re-entry into society.
"I do think it will take awhile to accomplish reforms," the governor said.
"Would I like it done faster? Absolutely. But we have an outstanding leader in Scott Frakes (the Department of Correctional Services director) and he knows what he's doing.
"I do not see the need for us to build an expensive new prison," the governor said.
Ricketts lost one high-profile veto override battle when senators this week enacted a bill to allow young, undocumented immigrants who have lawful presence in the United States to acquire professional and commercial licenses to work in Nebraska.
But he succeeded in halting a redistricting reform bill with a veto that was not challenged by its sponsor, Sen. John Murante of Omaha. The measure would have created an independent, bipartisan citizens commission to recommend redistricting plans to the Legislature for its approval or disapproval.
The proposal was designed to distance state senators, political parties and partisan officeholders from the task of drawing the new districts.
"Elected representatives in a nonpartisan Legislature do it now," Ricketts said. "I'm not sure how you improve on that."