- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said Thursday that cutting taxes will remain a top priority for the rest of his time in office, but that he will listen closely to lawmakers when it comes to specific plans.

The Republican governor told The Associated Press that he will turn to committee chairmen and chairwomen to help shape his proposals before every legislative session.

“I want to do tax relief every year I’m governor,” Ricketts said during an interview at his office at the Capitol. “Much of that agenda will be driven by who those committee chairs are and what they want to accomplish.”

That could create a challenge for Ricketts next year. Because of term limits, the Legislature’s tax-focused Revenue Committee will have a new chairman who won’t be elected until senators reconvene in January.

It also could mean a greater focus on income taxes, which haven’t received as much attention because of soaring property tax bills for agricultural land. Some urban senators have voiced frustration with the Legislature’s constant debates about property taxes over the last few years.

Ricketts proposed a property tax package this year that lawmakers and his staff ended up rewriting after it was widely criticized. The plan drew opposition because it would have imposed spending controls on local governments and capped the statewide aggregate increases in property tax valuations. The plan approved by lawmakers provided an additional $20 million for property tax credits aimed at farm and ranch landowners.

“While we didn’t get all we wanted, at the end we made progress with property taxes,” he said.

Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, the outgoing Revenue Committee chairman, said his successor will have to work closely with Ricketts and other lawmakers to pass even modest tax proposals.

“They’d better be good at building consensus and be willing to play small ball - live with bunts and singles,” Gloor said.

Ricketts said he was happy with this year’s session, pointing to a $20 million funding increase for property tax credits, a new state budget, road-funding legislation and the defeat of a Medicaid expansion bill.

“We were four for four on the priorities we laid out,” he said.

Still, the first-term governor suffered a significant defeat. On Wednesday, which was the session’s final day, lawmakers overrode Ricketts’ veto of a bill that will allow youths who came or were brought to the country illegally to obtain professional licenses so they can work in health care, education and other industries.

Ricketts lobbied hard to stop the bill by holding news conferences, writing columns and making personal calls to lawmakers to try to sway their vote. Supporters say the law will help address the state’s skilled worker shortage, but Ricketts blasted it as unfair to immigrants who entered the country legally.

“I don’t know what we would have done differently” to prevent the override, Ricketts said Thursday. “We laid out a very compelling case for why this was so unfair and unjust to the people who were following the law.”


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