Two weeks ago, Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen gave his first State of the State Address as Nebraska’s leading executive.
Unless you are incredibly keyed in on state politics, it is likely you didn’t hear much about the speech.
There were no exceedingly controversial takes, no mention of Nebraskan carnage, no ripped-up speeches and no shouting from the senators.
Overall, the address was pretty boring — and that’s a good thing.
More importantly, the speech laid out Pillen’s vision for the state through a long list of the administration’s legislative goals. I cannot give a blanket endorsement of every policy proposal in Pillen’s address, but I do believe the governor’s priorities are in the right place.
Throughout the speech, two primary themes emerged: property tax relief and education funding.
Although I am from the Kansas City metro, I have spent a significant amount of time in rural Nebraska. I know how much tax relief and education funding mean to landowners in the rural part of the state and, of course, how the importance of property taxes and education funding doesn’t stop at the Lincoln and Omaha city limits either.
In his address, Pillen recommended an additional $2.4 billion dollars in property tax cuts, including an investment of $390 million in the property tax credit relief fund, bringing the total number to $7.1 billion in property tax cuts through fiscal year 2026-27. According to Pillen, this proposal would place Nebraska in the top 15 tax-friendly states.
When talking about education, Pillen could have spent his time railing against the wokeness of public schools — he is the author of a resolution which opposed critical race theory in university curriculum, after all — but instead he chose to focus on the funding that he plans to provide both public and private schools throughout the state.
Pillen proposed the creation of the Education Future Fund, which would provide funding for school districts’ special education programs to the tune of $1 billion in the 2023-24 fiscal year and $250 million each subsequent year.
The investment would also include an allocation of $1,500 annually per public school student to each public Nebraska school district.
The governor’s budget includes additional funding for Nebraska students after high school as well, providing $39.4 million to fund more than 4,200 scholarships for Nebraska students who attend universities in the state and $50 million for Nebraska kids in alternative education.
My minor in economics does not qualify me to tell you whether the specific amounts of these investments are good or bad, but I can say that investment in education — “the great equalizer,” as Horace Mann called it — is a wonderful thing to prioritize.
Pillen’s budget also outlines plans to fund a $500 million canal, state worker salary increases and $20 million to a campaign to market Nebraska and bring in top talent from outside the state.
While all of this may seem like a lot of money, it is also important to recognize that Pillen’s budget would have less annual spending growth than his predecessor’s. This should make Nebraska more economically resilient and able to withstand additional budget needs if other crises such as a global pandemic or stock market crash come up.
Pillen’s speech also included his vision on more controversial takes, including his support for a new prison and the ‘heartbeat bill’ which would restrict abortion in the state after six weeks. I may write more about these more as the legislative session goes on, but these were not the hallmarks of the governor’s address.
Overall, most of these goals seem to be reasonable and attainable measures for Nebraska, and I am hopeful that conservatives and liberals in the Unicameral can find a way to make these plans work.
It is generally more fun to be critical of people in government — and I imagine criticism may be more fun to read — but I want to give credit where credit is due.
I have been plenty critical of Gov. Pillen before, and I am still disappointed that he was elected governor without ever taking part in a live debate.
I will also admit that Pillen’s appointment of former governor and major campaign donor Pete Ricketts to the vacant U.S. Senate seat left behind by Ben Sasse was a bad look.
Yet, none of these factors made Pillen’s State of the State Address a bad speech.
Sure, his former gubernatorial opponent state Sen. Carol Blood called the speech, “very uninspiring” and acknowledged that, “public speaking is hard, and I’m sure that [Pillen will] get better with time,” but I happen to agree with state Sen. Danielle Conrad, former executive director of the Nebraska ACLU, who complimented Pillen’s “warm, authentic, personal leadership style.”
Pillen’s personality may not draw the same attention that Ron DeSantis or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might, but that’s okay. Ultimately, the content of the speech — not the manner in which it was spoken — is what matters most.
There is a difference between what is said in a speech and what actually gets done in the legislature, but—to use a football metaphor for Pillen’s administration — the goalposts have been set, and they have been set well.
Let’s just hope the Nebraska Legislature is better at following through than the Huskers’ recent kickers.
Brian Beach is a senior journalism major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.