WAHOO – Gov. Pete Ricketts was dishing up a helping of property tax relief along with the prime rib during the Saunders County Livestock Association annual meeting and banquet Monday night.

“We have the opportunity to do more on the state’s No. 1 issue, that’s property tax,” he told the group assembled at the Starlite Event Center near Wahoo.

The State Department of Revenue reported earlier this month that net tax collections through December were up $178 million more than projected. So there is money to make tax relief happen, the governor said.

Ricketts is proposing $500 million in tax relief over the next three years. The goal is to reduce the amount that ag land is taxed from 75 percent to below 60 percent, and to lower commercial and residential property from 100 percent to below 90 percent.

The framework for the tax relief plan is to change the state aid for schools formula to help bring valuations down. Ricketts said he is working to keep all 244 school districts in the state “roughly the same” as far as aid.

There’s a lot of work still to do on the tax plan, but they have a goal in mind, the governor said.

“That’s our No. 1 focus we’ve got for this legislative session,” said Ricketts.

It was a return appearance for the state’s top official, having dined with the group during their annual event last year.

This year, property tax was top on the governor’s mind, followed closely by the aftermath of the March 2019 floods.

“The flooding was the most widespread natural disaster in our state’s history and the costliest,” he said.

Despite damage in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the state is showing its finest colors following the devastation.

“Because of the way people stepped up to help their neighbors,” Ricketts said. “We showed the world what it truly means to be Nebraska strong.”

Damage to bridges and roads at the county level alone was $400 million, Ricketts said. The cost of repair will be split among federal, state and county governments. The governor has proposed a $63 million dollar plan to help pay for 20 percent of the counties’ shares.

A bill to provide a 50 percent tax credit on military retirement pay is another idea backed by Ricketts. He said five of the six states that neighbor Nebraska do not tax military retirement pay, which is enticing our veterans to leave. The tax credit will keep that from happening.

“It allows us to be more competitive and old onto our veterans,” he said.

One area where the state is very competitive is economic development. Ricketts said Nebraska had the most economic development per capita than any other state, in part because of the opening of the Costco chicken processing plant in Fremont. He said not only will the plant add 1,000 jobs, but it also provides opportunities for families to invest in poultry farms, as there will need to be 100 farms to produce chickens for the plant.

“It’s going to have over a billion dollar impact on our state’s economy,” he said.

During the event, the 2019 4-H grand and reserve champions in beef, sheep, meat goats and swine were recognized.

Twenty-year members Kenny Sabata, Ken Fujan and Doug Hass were honored, as well as 35-year members Union Bank and Tim Bartek.

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