Jim Pillen sworn in as Nebraska’s 41st governor

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Source: Omaha Herald

Nebraska officially has a new governor. Columbus hog producer Jim Pillen was sworn in as the state’s 41st governor Thursday afternoon.

Pillen replaces Gov. Pete Ricketts, who was an ardent supporter of Pillen’s during his gubernatorial campaign. Pillen is Nebraska’s fourth consecutive GOP governor since 1999.

Thursday’s inaugural ceremonies in the Capitol’s legislative chamber also saw the introduction of new Lt. Gov. Joe Kelly and new Attorney General Mike Hilgers, among several other incoming state officials. All officials were sworn in before Pillen took the podium for his inaugural address.

Pillen fought off emotions at the start of the speech and when speaking about his family, who were seated in the front of the chamber. His seven grandchildren greeted him at the end of the line of lawmakers as he was escorted inside.

The speech was light on policy and heavy on praise for Nebraska and its people. The only three issues he mentioned as priorities were addressing what he’s described as the “brain drain,” referring to the trend of skilled workers leaving the state; fixing the state’s “broken tax code”; and adjusting Nebraska’s school funding formula — all of which were major pillars of his campaign.

Pillen did not explain how he plans to accomplish any of these goals. In an interview with The World-Herald, Pillen mentioned he would take an “income-based approach” to reducing taxes, and he has repeatedly advocated for completely changing the state’s school funding formula to distribute aid through a per-pupil system, rather than per-district.

In his address, Pillen vowed to work with legislators to focus on policies that benefit the whole state, rather than specific communities. He also promised to be fiscally conservative, treating state tax dollars as he would his own money.

“We treat nickels like manhole covers, making decisions with fiscal conservatism and the constant drive to do more with less,” Pillen said.

Pillen has several noteworthy tasks on his to-do list for the first days of his term. He has yet to name his appointment to replace outgoing U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, though he is expected to do so in the next few days, with Sasse’s resignation taking effect Sunday. Many expect Pillen to appoint Ricketts to the seat.

Pillen also has to draft the next state budget proposal, encompassing the next two fiscal years, which will be revealed during his State of the State address on Jan. 25. Many of his campaign promises, including school aid and tax relief, are likely to be reflected in the budget.

However, Pillen also has to grapple with an extraordinarily high cash reserve of $2.3 billion, based on the state’s latest revenue projections. Pillen told The World-Herald that he plans to use some of the money on projects such as broadband investments and highway expansion, but for the most part he aims to “give it back to its people,” likely pointing to tax cuts.