Heineman tells Omaha to tighten its belt

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January 3rd, 2012

Omaha, NE – Nebraska lawmakers are readying for the 2012 legislative session that begins tomorrow Governor Heineman weighed in on his priorities for the state during a conference call with reporters today.

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The Governor agreed child welfare reform is certain to be a major topic in this year’s legislative session. The Nebraska child welfare system has undergone major changes over the last few years, as the state moved to privatize a cumbersome and historically troubled system. But the reforms have not gone as planned. And last month, a legislative committee released its review, along with several recommendations for a total overhaul. Heineman said he’s familiarized himself with the findings.

Gov. Heineman said he would veto any attempt to allow cities to raise their sales tax rates. Omaha currently levies a 1.5 cent sales tax; the state levies an additional 5.5 cents. (Photo courtesy State of Nebraska).

“I’ve read the report three times now,” he said. “I believe it’s that important, and I’m trying to make sure I fully understand the concerns of the legislature. I’ve begun meetings with state senators and other interested stakeholders to see if we can find common ground, to develop a more coordinated, a more collaborative and a more comprehensive approach to what we’re doing with child welfare.”

Heineman said he wants to continue those discussions before presenting his own plan to move forward.

The Governor also addressed the perennial topic of the state budget. Funds will be a little looser this session than they were last year, when the state was faced with a billion dollar budget gap. But Heineman said if there’s any extra money to go around, the first priority should be to send it back to the taxpayers. He also addressed a bill likely to be re-introduced in the legislature this year. A priority of the city of Omaha, the proposal would allow cities to increase their sales tax rates – if voters approve. But Heineman said if the bill makes it to his desk, he will veto it.

“I am strongly and adamantly opposed to that bill,” he said. “That will make us less business friendly in this state. It will be about higher taxes and more spending. The city of Omaha needs to model itself after what we’ve done here in state government. Tighten your belts.”

The Governor said he will lay out his own priorities for the legislative session by January 12.

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