Josh Moenning, the mayor of Norfolk, joked to a crowd of about 30 people on Thursday afternoon that Norfolk has become a second home to Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, as he made another visit here Thursday.
Foley was in Norfolk on Thursday to sightsee, meet with members of the community and honor various state employees and volunteers.
The lieutenant governor began the day with tours of Embrace Park, the YMCA, the Norfolk Sculpture Walk downtown and to new housing and business developments.
Foley said he has been traveling across the state recently to honor longtime state employees and decided to take in the sights of Norfolk before his visit to the Norfolk Veterans Home on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s exciting to see some of the new things coming to this community,” Foley said.
He also spoke at the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce’s Unlimited Potential luncheon, where he recapped some of the challenges and accomplishments of the state this year.
Foley began by recounting the devastation of flooding in March, during which four people died, millions of dollars of property were damaged and many roads and bridges throughout the state were damaged and even rendered impassable, some of which still haven’t been repaired.
“It caused extraordinary disruption throughout our state,” Foley said. “Within a 72-hour period, over 100 of our cities and 81 counties had issued emergency declarations, which put tremendous strain on our systems.”
But during a time of crisis, Foley said, Nebraskans were able to rely on their neighbors.
“People were opening their homes to neighbors and their families,” Foley said. “That’s just the Nebraska way.”
The recovery effort is still ongoing, as the state is repairing 15 impassable bridges and hundreds of miles of highway, Foley said.
Another significant challenge faced by the state is a long-standing one: a solution for high property taxes.
Finding a solution is difficult because a property tax bill would need the support of 33 senators to pass to prevent a filibuster and to overcome a potential governor veto.
“It’s very difficult to get that much support, because senators will read the bill and see there are winners and losers,” Foley said.
The lack of agreement also is exacerbated by the fact that legislative power has shifted to urban areas, and not even the few rural senators are in consensus, either.
The solution supported by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee was a bill to raise income tax and lift some sales tax exemptions. Foley said he personally didn’t agree with that method.
“Once you raise taxes, they never go away,” Foley said. “And in a few years, property taxes will go right back up.”
One proposed solution is a citizen-led ballot initiative that would give income tax credits to all property tax payers worth 35% of their property tax bill.
That solution, Foley said, would cost about $1 billion and put a massive strain on the state’s budget and tax code.
“We don’t have that money,” Foley said. “But it shows there’s great anger out there, particularly in the rural areas. People are out there signing this petition.”
Another challenge that Foley said Nebraska faces is a battle against what he called a “drug culture.”
“Tragically, the drug culture in our state is still very vibrant, and it’s creating big problems for us,” Foley said.
He said a current petition to put legalized medical marijuana on the 2020 ballot will eventually lead to fully recreational marijuana in Nebraska, which he said could be devastating.
“In Colorado, the influence of those drugs are everywhere. Kids are seeing their parents and role models do it and it’s causing great devastation to the social fabric of the state,” he said.
In a brief question-and-answer phase, one attendee criticized the governor and his views on taxes and some social issues.
“I want property tax change, and this governor is not going to do it,” the attendee said. “He (Ricketts) wants to craft a plan that forces county commissions and school boards to cut their spending. He doesn’t appoint them, we elect them. He’s got no say on what our board of education wants to spend. He needs to stay out of who we elect and how we spend our money. That’s on us.”
He continued by saying that Nebraska will be the last to implement ideas popular in other states, such as gambling, marijuana and tax reform.
“We continue to be the last to the game everywhere. We’re in a tough place,” he said.
Foley responded to his frustration regarding property taxes, saying that he understands where people are coming from and said that Gov. Ricketts has been working hard to find a solution, and as soon as 33 senators agree, the issue can be addressed.
“The governor would love to have a bill he could sign tomorrow,” Foley said.
Other issues Foley addressed in his speech were overcrowded prisons, incentives for new businesses, ethanol, foreign trade, Medicaid and workforce shortages.