LINCOLN — Don't talk to Gov. Dave Heineman about being a lame duck.
With one year left in office and one final legislative session ahead of him, the feisty Republican and former Army Ranger said he's approaching 2014 like he did his previous nine years in office.
That would be full-speed ahead.
“I am just as excited and energized about this session as I was my first,” Heineman said of the legislative session that begins Wednesday. “Your job as governor, whether it's your first year or your last year, is to get your job done.”
The 65-year-old governor, in an hourlong interview covering the coming year, declined to discuss his legacy as the state's longest-serving chief executive, or to talk about his plans for when he leaves office.
But he dispatched recurring rumors that he will become president of the University of Nebraska or chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“I am not going to be president of the university or the chancellor (in Lincoln). We've got two good people in those jobs already. Even if they were open, I wouldn't be interested,” Heineman said.
The governor, who has twice rejected chances to run for the U.S. Senate, also said:
» Tax relief will be his top focus in 2014.
He said the state can utilize about $225 million of its projected $725 million cash reserve for tax cuts, and the record-high reserve is proof that Nebraskans are being “overtaxed.”
Those cuts should focus on the middle class, those earning between $60,000 and $120,000, and on owners of agricultural land. Ag land should be valued for tax purposes at 65 percent of its assessed value, instead of the current 75 percent, he said.
It's unfair, Heineman said, that middle-class taxpayers pay the highest state income tax rate, the same rate as the wealthiest Nebraskans.
He said $500 million is sufficient for the cash reserve. The reserve, the growing economy and continued fiscal restraint will provide the funds to “do hundreds of millions of dollars of tax relief, phased in over several years.”
» An alternative “Nebraska plan” to expand Medicaid is unaffordable and unsustainable.
Iowa and Arkansas are among the states that have crafted their own federally funded alternatives to help provide health insurance to a “gap” of citizens who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for Obamacare tax credits.
A group of state lawmakers is looking to craft a similar alternative for Nebraska's gap of about 32,500 adults, using $400 million in federal funds pledged to the state for an expansion.
But Heineman said such alternatives are “just another form of Obamacare.” Given the federal government's debt and overspending, he said, it won't be able to sustain funding for the health care program.
“It's been one disaster after another on this rollout,” he said. “We need to let this settle down before we go into an expansion.”
» He wants a detailed accounting of why $50 million a year in new tax dollars is needed for water projects, such as dams and conservation research.
It's critical to maintain water to irrigate crops and provide drinking water, Heineman said, but even some members of the state task force that recommended a slew of new taxes “can't define” how $50 million a year would be spent.
He said he hasn't heard a stampede of support for the suggested new taxes, which include taxes on pop, fertilizer, ethanol and bottled water. “Higher taxes are not the answer,” Heineman said.
» He also doesn't think there's support to raise park fees or taxes to address $30 million in deferred maintenance at state parks.
Government can't “do everything that everybody wants,” he said.
“You've got to distinguish between what do we really need to do to help our state and what is nice to do. You really need to learn how to say no.”