Two Nebraska farm and ranch organizations say the inability of Gov. Pete Ricketts to address property tax relief has led them to endorse Bob Krist, the Democratic candidate for governor.
In a campaign event Thursday in Grand Island, Krist received the endorsement of the Nebraska Farmers Union Political Action Committee (NEBFARMPAC) and the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska (ICON).
Along with the lack of meaningful property tax relief for farmers and ranchers, John Hansen, NEBFARMPAC secretary and president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, was also critical of how, he said, Ricketts has abused Nebraska’s state’s unique one-house, nonpartisan Legislature.
“Our state has been well served because it has mostly avoided the blinding dysfunction of partisan politics that paralyze our Congress,” Hansen said. “We are extremely alarmed by Gov. Ricketts’ heavy-handed, unprecedented meddling in legislative elections. He uses his family fortune to buy control of the Legislature.”
Hansen said Ricketts recruits candidates to run against incumbent state senators and funds their campaigns.
“His meddling in legislative elections undermines the relationship between state senators and their governor, their working relationship with each other, and their relationship with their own voters back home in their district,” he said. “A state senator should not be put in a position where they pick between representing the will of the voters back home, or incurring the wrath of the governor, who will recruit a candidate to run against them if they cross him.”
Also at the Grand Island event were members of the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska. This is the first time in its 13-year existence that the group has endorsed a candidate for governor.
Former Republican state Sen. Al Davis, ICON treasurer from Hyannis, spoke at the event.
Davis said Ricketts has ignored the needs of his supporters in rural Nebraska by continuing to actively oppose any discussion of meaningful property tax reform. He said the governor’s 2018 tax bill would have generated only $25 in property tax relief for the state’s homeowners, “but $13 million in income tax relief for him and his family.”
“ICON’s actions reflect the board’s deep dissatisfaction with Gov. Ricketts and his refusal to address meaningful property tax reform,” he said. “Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers pay the nation’s highest property taxes (in excess of $22,000) on a per capita basis, outpacing second-place California, where the per capita average is $13,000.”
ICON board member Chris Abbot said Nebraska’s agricultural producers are at the breaking point.
“If something isn’t done soon, I think we’ll see many more individuals exiting the state for better agricultural opportunities elsewhere,” Abbot said. “I want my children to have the same opportunities I had to build a life in Nebraska. I don’t think that will be possible if we re-elect Ricketts for another four years.”
Hansen said the governor has had nearly four years to solve the most important issue to Farmer Union members and agriculture interests across the state.
“He has talked and talked and talked about the problem, but has failed to lead,” he said. “Instead of giving property tax relief to the men and women who work the land and feed the world, Pete Ricketts has instead supported personal and business income tax cuts for his rich friends.”
Hansen said Krist’s 10 years of service in the Legislature is a “shining example of the independent, nonpartisan citizen servant state senator.”
“He is a good listener, good at bringing people together to solve problems, good at asking questions and gathering information, and willing to tackle tough issues,” he said. “We believe he has a deep abiding respect for our state’s unicameral system of government, its traditions, and its nonpartisan independence. He is the kind of state senator George Norris would be proud of.”
As governor, Krist said, he will work with the Legislature, agriculture and other key groups to address property taxes by focusing on education.
“For far too long, we have not adequately funded education at the state level the way we should have and this is putting an incredible amount of pressure on property taxes,” he said.
Nebraska needs to make sure there are foundation aid components in place, Krist said, so that rural school districts get the funding they need.
“Not that long ago, 20 percent of income taxes paid were coming back into the local school districts,” Krist said. “This past year, that number was less than 3 percent. This alone would provide well over $300 million in additional school funding that would reduce pressure on property taxes.”
He said state leaders need to be willing to “think outside the box, find new ways to balance our tax structure and reduce pressure on property taxes, and make sure our rainy day fund is adequate so we can have it when we need it for emergencies.”
“Under Gov. Ricketts’ watch, the rainy day fund, the state’s cash reserve, has declined from more than $700 million to less than $300 million in four years,” Krist said.
“That is an irresponsible and reckless policy. We can do better.”