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Gov. Pillen Speaks To Crowd At Handlebend

Jul 5, 2023 (0)

Governor Pillen visit - Governor Jim Pillen stopped briefly at Handlebend in O'Neill last Wednesday to give a briefing on the recent legislative session in the state.

Gov. Jim Pillen stopped in O'Neill during a two-day fly around to central and western communities. Six stops were included in the trip on Wednesday, June 28, and Thursday, June 29. Five of those visits involved town hall events, during which the Governor discussed highlights from the 2023 legislative session and took questions from attendees. 

Gov. Pillen commented on being the 41st governor and the recent legislative session and gave a little report card on the State's progress.

One of his goals was to bring business principles and practices to state government and recruit people that have been successful in business. 

"We have created a new broadband office to expand through LB 683 and announced his appointment of Patrick Haggerty as the State's first broadband director. Haggerty will lead the Nebraska Broadband Office established by Executive Order No 23-02 and LB 683, coordinating broadband deployment across the State. Reflective on the significance of this position for Nebraska, Governor Pillen established the Office of the Director of Broadband as part of his executive Cabinet.

"Patrick's many years of executive-level experience in the telecommunications and government relations fields uniquely positions him to lead our efforts to bring reliable and affordable high-speed internet to all Nebraskans," said Gov. Jim Pillen. "The Broadband Office will connect Nebraska, coordinating efforts across state and federal programs to ensure an innovative vision and execution capable of bringing broadband services to our rural communities."

"Last year, we got to looking, and we thought we have extraordinary amounts of revenue coming in, billions and billions coming in. We had historic income going into the coffers. We walked into state agencies and looked at their requests for increases of 10, 15 and 20 percent to run their agencies for the next two years. We said no to everything. We wanted to present a zero-growth budget to the Unicameral. Still, we ended up with just a 1.3 increase because of law enforcement or, specifically, the state patrol, who had gotten left behind regarding their budget. Also we had to get more money for engineers for road work.

It is essential to remember that it is what is best for Nebraska. It is important to have a strong financial base for Nebraska. We took all that money and invested it in changing how we funded education and then took that money and saw if we could cut taxes. When I found out that we are taxing their social security tax, I found that appalling; well, we got that changed starting next year. We also got the income tax changed from 6.8 to 3.99 in 2027, so we compete with other states and don't see elders leaving.

Pillen's plan for education funding includes an Education Future Fund with an investment of 1 billion dollars in fiscal years 23-24 and $250 million each year after that. This investment ensures that Nebraska will never give up on a single kid – ever again. The Education Future Fund will provide further assistance to our school districts to help meet the needs of special education students across the State. It has been promised to local districts that 80 percent of special education funding would come from Federal and State sources, but we are only funding half that.

The hard-core reality is that, at the state level, we need to support special education sufficiently. This commitment is the State's job, not that of property taxpayers. This investment will ensure we meet our commitment to special education and enable property tax relief.

This investment also includes a major structural reform to our state aid to education formula, TEEOSA. This formula has long failed to meet the needs of those school districts that receive no equalization aid from the State. Today I am recommending an allocation of $1,500 dollars annually to every public school student in every Nebraska school district. This foundational aid provides much-needed support for our rural school districts, which have been underserved for far too long. This investment, combined with special education funding reform, will provide more funding to every school district in the State.

The Education Future Fund is a transformative investment of state tax dollars in education, but it must be combined with a framework that ensures dollar-for-dollar property tax relief. I am recommending a 3 percent growth cap on spending for school districts, which can only be overridden by 75 percent of local school board members or 60 percent of voters in a vote of the people. As the state shoulders a more significant portion of the cost of educating our kids, the burden on property taxpayers must be reduced through careful spending control and constraint by our school districts. This 3 percent cap will ensure property tax relief while maintaining local control. It will enhance accountability to the taxpayers and ensure the government does a better job of treating nickels like manhole covers.

Our kids want to stay in Nebraska and get their post-secondary education here. To address this, my budget provides $39.4 Million to fund over 4,200 scholarships for Nebraska students who attend any of Nebraska's institutes of higher education. This helps us to compete for our kids and keep them here. I want to inspire and challenge Nebraska stakeholders and business leaders to pick up the ball and do business differently. We must reach out to K-12, build relationships with our kids, and give them hope. Scholarship them so they can get an education and work in your business for at least five years in return. It is not only the right thing to do but also a key to growing our workforce, your business, and Nebraska.

Focusing on all kids, Pillen recommended a 50 Million dollar scholarship investment for Nebraska kids whose needs are best met outside of public education. Opportunity scholarship tax credits will provide scholarships for kids who live in poverty, in foster care systems, and those with special needs. We can't let one kid fall through the cracks.

The budget also includes a $10 Million investment for the biennium to help recruit and train students in high-need fields, such as teachers, nurses, and food animal veterinarians for food security. I am very proud to have Dr. Jais Ford, a new graduate practicing food animal medicine in Hyannis, in our beloved Sandhills. Dr. Ford, please stand and be recognized. With vet school debt, the decision to practice food animal medicine in rural communities can be a difficult one, but we can make it easier. Our food animal veterinarians are critical to our State's success, and we need more Dr. Fords to sustain animal agriculture and ensure food security in our State and our nation.

The Governor is also committing $20 Million to continue the "The Good Life is Calling" Campaign to market Nebraska. We simply have to brag about Nebraska across this country, focusing on attracting top talent. We will report the results of this investment next year. Like me, I know you have high expectations for solving our workforce challenge. This is a step forward. We must focus our future on the great careers that exist here in Nebraska.

The Governor took a few questions from the audience before concluding his visit.


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