By Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman

Dear Fellow Nebraskans:

In recent weeks I've had several opportunities to talk with new and returning senators, as well as Nebraskans, and I want to take this opportunity share the vision I have for Nebraska's future.

That vision requires that leaders from border to border of our state come together and focus on creating jobs for the next generation of Nebraskans. From my perspective, it should top the list for all of us in the coming year and over the course of the next decade.

We have some very serious challenges to face, and the coming decade will be critical in determining the course of Nebraska's future. If nothing changes, it's projected that over the next 25 years Nebraska's population age 65 and older will grow by 75 percent. That is the reason I'm so focused on finding ways to help recruit more young people to our state and ensuring that young Nebraskans have opportunities to be part of our future.

One of the major things standing in the way of this kind of job creation is the fact that Nebraska is a high tax state. In fact, a recent national comparison of state tax assessments showed that Nebraskans pay the sixth highest taxes of any state in the nation.

Despite the early success we've had with the Nebraska Advantage job creation and business incentive package, in order to generate the level of business and job growth we need, we cannot continue to foster a system that has Nebraskans paying some of the highest taxes in the country. Our business incentives mean little if companies, their managers and employees have to take on a higher tax burden in order to locate here. That is why we must get focused on tax reform at all levels of government.

Given that income and sales tax rates are set by the state, my focus in the year ahead will be on reforming our income tax system. My focus has been to take a realistic look at what we can do to reform our income tax structure. Right now, a two income, middle-class family is paying income taxes at the same rate as the wealthiest Nebraskans in our state. I think most Nebraskans would agree that's not in our best interests, and that the average Nebraska family is shouldering too much of the burden.

My focus in the year ahead will be on reforming our income tax structure, with the goal of moving our state into a more competitive position. What that means is that we need to be more competitive with other Midwestern states that are growing.

I intend to work with the Legislature to make that happen, and I would argue that in order to achieve our goals for job growth we also need to be vigilant about controlling spending. We can't afford a state government whose budget grows at a rate exceeding that of economic growth. While we work to provide tax relief in the upcoming legislative session, we must also work to slow the growth of government spending.

Our focus in the years to come must be on doing what's best for the future of this state. There's no doubt that there are difficult decisions to be made, but my hope is that we can make creating jobs for our young people the first item of business in the years ahead. My administration is going to lead by example, and it is my sincere hope is that others will join in this effort in order to secure a brighter future for all Nebraskans.

The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.