Happy New Year, fellow Nebraskans! With the start of a new year, the Unicameral Legislature convenes in January to work on priorities Nebraskans care about. In good times and in bad, Nebraskans work together to get things done and move our state forward. When we see a need, we go out and meet that need. Over the years, many of your state senators and I have worked together on your priorities. You don’t have to look any further than the work we did together in the 2017 session to see the power of working together. The bills we worked on are already making Nebraska an even better place to live, work and raise a family.

Sen. John Murante of Gretna and I partnered on a successful initiative to merge the Division of Veterans’ Homes with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). Previously, the Division of Veterans’ Homes had been housed in the Department of Health and Human Services. Nebraska is home to 133,000 veterans. These veterans have risked it all to serve their state and country. By merging Veterans’ Homes with the DVA, we’ve created a more customer-friendly, one-stop-shop for veterans’ services in Nebraska.

The Legislature and I also merged the Department of Roads and the Department of Aeronautics to eliminate overhead and form the Department of Transportation (DOT). The merger was accomplished with the help of Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, chair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee. The team at DOT has already successfully streamlined agency operations, so we can invest more existing state revenues into roads and runways.

Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell brought a great welfare reform initiative to my desk, which I signed last session. Sen. Kuehn’s LB203 ended the practice of allowing people to voluntarily quit their jobs and still receive unemployment benefits. Nebraska was one of the last states that allowed for this to happen. This reform keeps our unemployment benefits system focused on those who need it most. It will also encourage Nebraskans to keep working and seek new employment rather than using taxpayer dollars.

During the 2017 session, I teamed up with several state senators to reform Nebraska’s professional licensing laws. For example, a bill by Sen. John Lowe of Kearney ended an unnecessary licensing tax for car salesmen. Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston helped eliminate a duplicative requirement for audiologists. Removing dated and unnecessary regulation of bank officers was accomplished with the help of Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha. Sens. Steve Erdman of Bayard and Carol Blood of Bellevue helped push through reforms that gave the spouses of military members more flexibility in transferring a professional license from another state. By bringing our professional licensing requirements into alignment with other states, we’re making Nebraska a more attractive state for people across the nation.

Most importantly last session, state senators and I worked together on a budget that cut spending, while still protecting important investments like K-12 education and corrections and providing property tax relief for Nebraska’s property owners. We reduced the growth of the budget to just 0.6 percent, a 90 percent decrease since I took office.

During the upcoming 2018 session, I look forward to working with state senators on the priorities Nebraskans want. Once again, we’ll be working on the budget. Due to a new revenue forecast lowering estimated tax receipts, I’ll be making a budget proposal that cuts spending and balances the budget without raising taxes. This year, I will also be working with state senators on a new tax reform proposal. Nebraskans continue to tell me that they need property and income tax reform. The Tax Foundation ranks Nebraska’s property taxes as 11th-highest in the nation and income tax as 26th-highest. From residential homeowners to ag producers to job creators, Nebraskans need and want relief.

The teamwork we experienced in 2017 laid a great foundation for this year’s legislative session. I look forward to working with state senators to reduce government spending and deliver tax reform. Working together, we can accomplish great things.

In the coming weeks, I encourage each of you to support our work this legislative session with your input. Be sure to call your state senators and let them know that you want to see a balanced budget and tax reform. Contact information for state senators is available at www.nebraskalegislature.gov.

Gov. Pete Ricketts can be contacted at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.

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