Call him the businessman governor. Or maybe Governor Businessman.
Nebraska’s CEO, Gov. Pete Ricketts, now in the last year of his first term, touted the state's accomplishments in growing the economy while shrinking its government during his State of the State address on Wednesday.
Heaping praise on both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, Ricketts struck a conciliatory tone as he introduced his plans to push more state budget cuts and rework tax policy, which he says will spur growth while providing relief to farmers, ranchers and homeowners alike.
“In the spirit of cooperation, we come together each year to accomplish the priorities that matter most to Nebraskans,” Ricketts said during his fourth annual address.
“Our work together is helping to grow our state and keep Nebraska the best place in the world to live, work and raise a family,” he said while addressing the Legislature and state employees gathered in the George W. Norris Legislative Chamber.
Individuals and businesses from across the U.S. are taking note, Ricketts said. Last year, Nebraska recorded record levels of employment — “1 million nonfarm jobs” — while also the lowest unemployment rate — 2.7 percent — since 1999.
Nebraska’s population also inched higher in 2017, topping 1.92 million people for the first time ever, the governor added.
Ricketts attributed the growth to international trade partnerships, growing investments in Nebraska’s workforce and transformations to state government in the form of slowed growth and greater efficiency to citizens — what he calls a “more customer-focused” approach.
He heralded Nebraska being awarded the Governor’s Cup, a top award from Site Selection magazine bestowed on the state with the most economic development projects per capita, and pointed to high rankings for Nebraska’s business climate by Forbes and Chief Executive magazine.
“Folks, this matters because when companies move here and invest, they create job opportunities for people,” he said.
Ricketts credited those opportunities as the result of work done by lawmakers in crafting policies friendly to new businesses — cutting regulations, making licenses easier to obtain — and for the state’s ambassadors reaching beyond U.S. borders to open new trade possibilities.
Trade missions to Canada, China, Japan, Denmark and elsewhere have spurred growth on the Great Plains, Ricketts said.
A trip to Canada in August helped snag a small plant for Agri-Plastics in Sidney that has created 20 jobs, Ricketts said, while the Denmark-based Novozymes launched a new investment in Blair after state leaders visited.
Ricketts introduced Eric Jones, a production worker at Kawasaki who landed a spot in the plant’s new aerospace division in Lincoln — a move the governor said was supported by a 2015 trade mission to Japan.
“Eric told me Kawasaki is great for Lincoln,” Ricketts said. “Besides the good-paying jobs and investment, Kawasaki supports local charities and uses local vendors.”
From the ranchlands of western Nebraska, Ricketts said beef has found a new destination after a 14-year hiatus: China. “I’m excited to report that over half the American beef in China now comes from Nebraska,” Ricketts said.
Other ag commodities are also finding new markets worldwide, Ricketts said, which are being opened by efforts from the Department of Agriculture and Department of Economic Development.
U.S. companies, too, have sought investments in Nebraska, the so-called Silicon Prairie. Ricketts pointed to a 970,000-square-foot facility under construction to serve as a data center for Facebook in Papillion, and a Costco chicken processing operation in Fremont.
Ricketts said his 2018 priorities will seek to create more opportunities for businesses to invest in Nebraska while also providing much-sought tax relief to Nebraska landowners and homeowners living in the state.
His threefold plan includes restructuring existing property tax credits into a new tax credit for Nebraskans and not “absentee landowners,” which the governor said would provide $4 billion in property tax relief over the next decade.
Next, Ricketts’ plan will reduce income and corporate tax rates incrementally if the state’s growth exceeds revenue projections by the state’s forecasting board. The plan uses existing tax credits to achieve a permanent reduction in the state’s individual and corporate tax rates.
“Right now, 90 percent of individual income taxes paid by Nebraskans are at that top rate, and 90 percent of Nebraska businesses pay at the top individual rate,” he said.
The third and final part of the plan, injecting $10 million into workforce development programs offered by the state over the next two years, would also be a boon to businesses looking to locate in the state, he said.
“We have our work cut out for us, but I have no doubt we are up to the challenge,” he said. “Nebraskans expect results.”
To help balance the budget with those proposed cuts, Ricketts proposed slowing state spending from a 0.6 percent increase this year to 0.2 percent next year.
His decrease calls for across-the-board spending cuts with the caveat they won’t touch the state aid to K-12 schools, investments into the Department of Corrections, which include nearly $6 million to build 100 new prison beds, or aid to the state’s population of developmentally disabled individuals.
Receiving 33 votes to get those priorities onto his desk for signing is going to take a bipartisan effort, however. Ricketts praised lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle for their efforts last year to bring him “many great things.”
Ricketts urged the Legislature to once again “roll up our sleeves and get the job done” in cutting red tape, balancing the budget and delivering tax relief.
“We have our work cut out for us, but I have no doubt we’re up to the challenge,” he said.
With another round of snow and sub-zero temperatures just around the corner, it’s time to get out those heavy coats and bundle up once more.
But what about our pets?
Posts on social media often have conflicting pieces of advice, which may confuse pet owners.
Some of the posts remind pet owners, “If you’re cold, they’re cold,” and implore pet owners to bring animals indoors at the first sight of snow. Other posts suggest some dog breeds feel more comfortable outside in the frigid weather and can stay out as long as they please.
To get to the bottom of the dispute, the Daily Sun spoke with Dr. Julie Knoerzer, veterinarian at Oakview Veterinary Clinic in Beatrice, about whether Facebook posts could be an accurate source of information.
“Facebook knows everything,” Knoerzer said, laughing.
It is true that some breeds are better-equipped for cold weather, she said. Arctic dogs like huskies, malamutes and St. Bernards have double coats that keep them warm when the temperature dips below freezing.
These dogs are happy to play out in the snow and cold, and come in only when they’ve had enough, Knoerzer said, but that doesn’t mean they can be outside all day and night without shelter. It’s important for a dog to have a place to go in order to get out of the wind, she said. A dog house or small shelter can help keep pets safe.
“Rather than putting blankets or bedding in a house, it's better to use layers of straw or prairie grasses,” Knoerzer said. “That acts more as an insulator. A blanket can get wet, and stay wet and get frozen. So, we're better off with a thick bed of hay and shelter from the wind.”
Small dogs and short-haired dogs should be taken out for walks or to use the bathroom, but it’s best to let them stay indoors where they can stay warm, Knoerzer said. There are many breeds that aren’t able to tolerate the cold, she said, so knowing your pet's breed is important.
“Same kind of thing for our kitties, too,” she said. “They've got thick coats. If they've got shelter and some sort of bedding that they can get away from it, for a barn cat, they do OK.”
Frostbite is another concern, she said. Since animals have fur to protect themselves, frostbite may not occur as quickly as it would to a human, but it can still happen.
It’s also important to remember pets' paws need to be protected. Just like in summer time, when the sidewalk can burn and blister paws, dogs and cats are vulnerable in the wintertime and their feet may be cut by ice on the ground.
The Humane Society also recommends cleaning your dog’s paws after a walk in the winter time. Rock salt and ice melt can irritate their paws. Some formulas are toxic, creating serious health concerns for dogs that try to lick it off. The Humane Society also recommend checking for spots of antifreeze and cleaning it up if you see it puddle. To pets, antifreeze is sweet and delicious, but it can be deadly.
For pets that do spend a lot of time outdoors during the winter, Knoerzer recommended buying a heated water bowl, a heating pad or a heat lamp, but stressed the need to use common sense when placing those items because pets and other critters may chew on electrical cords.
If you happen to see an animal left out in the cold, and it is a genuine cause for concern, the Humane Society recommends talking with the owner, if possible, before calling the authorities.
It’s also a good idea to check the engine compartment of your car before you drive because cats might crawl inside for warmth.
Knoerzer reiterated that if animals have to be outside for an extended period of time, it is necessary to provide a shelter where pets can get out of the wind and stay dry, with access to insulated bedding and fresh water. And, she said, owners must know when it’s time to bring pets inside.
“When we get that below-zero stuff, everybody needs to come in,” she said. “When we have that 20-below, they need to come in. They need to get in a garage or inside somewhere. It's too cold out there.”
Cleanup on the site of a former auto salvage yard the city of Beatrice acquired last year is nearly complete.
At a Wednesday BPW meeting, Beatrice Street Superintendent Jason Moore said that the cleanup of Catlin’s Auto Salvage along First Street began in December and is nearly complete. The street crew took on the job, which required demolition of an existing building and hauling away debris.
So far, Moore said 487 truckloads of debris have been hauled away from the site, which comes to about 4,200 tons of trash taken to a construction waste site near the landfill.
BPW member Darin Baher asked Moore if crews had found anything with recyclable value.
“We've got a pile down there that's got cast iron piping,” Moore said. “We've got fence that we've even taken and torched the chain link fence and set it aside. The steel pipes, the fencing, gates, an old railroad I-beam was in there. We pulled that aside.”
If it hadn’t been for the cold and snow in previous weeks, Moore said the cleanup would probably have been done by Thursday, but as it stands, they’re close to completion, with just some brush and small elm trees left to be removed.
The crew will be leaving the bigger cottonwood trees where they stand he said, which should look nice after the property is reverted back to green space.
In the coming days, weather permitting, the street department will be clearing a property to the north of the salvage site, which the city recently acquired from Farmers Cooperative. The property should be a significantly smaller job, Moore said, and he expects it will take only a few days to complete.
Moore said that after the job is finished, crews will haul in black dirt to lay down before seeding the property. The soil that’s been dug up at the site so far looks good, Moore said, but there are always a few surprises waiting.
“It's kind of like an iceberg,” Moore said. “You see a little bit sticking above ground, you go to try and pick it up and you end up finding out there's a Volkswagen under the dirt.”
Roger Harris is seeking another term as the Gage County attorney in the 2018 election.
Harris filed on Tuesday for a third term after being first elected in 2010.
Harris is a registered Republican, and is currently the only candidate to file for the position.
He said continuing to work with law enforcement to address drugs and related issues in Gage County is one reason he’s seeking another term, as well as working with juveniles.
“One particular emphasis when I came in was to work with juveniles to continue preventative measures such as diversion to keep juveniles out of the court system as much as possible,” he said. “We have a good relationship with the schools regarding truancy issues and delinquency to address that.”
Harris added that working with Gage County MAPS and diversion services has been beneficial.
As county attorney, Harris deals primarily with criminal cases originating from arrests made by area departments, as well as the Nebraska State Patrol and U.S. Marshals Service.
Harris said there are several factors that come into play when prosecuting a criminal case which people may not be aware of. These factor can determine if a defendant will be offered a plea deal as opposed to a jury trial.
“First and foremost, and a lot of people don’t want to admit it, but the system will break down if everything goes to trial,” he said. “There aren’t enough courtrooms or judges to handle the situation.”
Another factor is consideration for the victims. Harris said many victims of domestic violence will ultimately not want charges pressed against the accused, making it difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute.
Taking a case to trial would also put added stress on the victims in a case, which the office tries to avoid.
“The victims were traumatized once by defendant,” Harris said. “When they give testimony and show evidence at trial, they’re traumatized again. That’s something we have to weigh heavily as far as prosecuting.”
Harris also addressed the ongoing Beatrice 6 legal saga currently making its way through the court system.
The county has hired outside attorneys who work with Harris and the County Board.
“I’m basically a conduit with the board and attorneys that represent the county on that,” he said. “It’s one of those things that’s been on everybody’s mind since the original judgment was entered. I hope a lot of people understand this is something nobody could have predicted or foreseen when this thing first came about. The board is working the best they can to prepare for whatever happens from the eighth circuit. It is time-consuming and weighs on everybody’s mind.”
Eddie Dorn also filed recently, and he is seeking the district 1 seat on the County Board of Supervisors. Dorn, of Filley, is a registered Republican and the first to file for the position. Current district 1 representative Myron Dorn announced last year he will be seeking the district 30 seat of the Nebraska State Legislature.
District 1 represents the general northeastern portion of Gage County. A district map can be found online at www.gagecountynebraska.us.