Capitol: Lawmakers advance funding for University projects
March 14th, 2012
Lincoln, NE – The Legislature gave first-round approval to proposed changes in the state budget today, as sniping continued over whether a tax cut could fit into it.
The budget contains a fistful of capital construction projects at campuses of the University of Nebraska and the state colleges.
Thereâ€™s $50 million towards a cancer research tower at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Thereâ€™s $7.5 million for renovations to the Oak Bowl stadium at Peru State College, $6.7 million for an addition and renovation of the Armstrong Gymnasium at Chadron State, and $6 million toward an eventual $60 million for a Veterinary Diagnostic Center in Lincoln. And thereâ€™s $15 million for a building to expand a nursing program and establish other health programs in Kearney.
Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney said thatâ€™s needed, not only to keep young people in rural Nebraska, but to enhance services and keep people in towns throughout the area. â€œIf you want to look out 20 years, if we donâ€™t have medical health care in outstate Nebraska, what are we going to have?â€ Hadley asked.
â€œHow are you going to convince people to move to Ainsworth, Atkinson, those kind of places, if you say â€˜You want to go (to) health care? You get in your car. How far? Oh, itâ€™s only 130 miles.â€™ Is that what we want? I donâ€™t think so.â€
Except for the ongoing appropriations for the veterinary diagnostic center, all the construction projects are being funded from the stateâ€™s cash reserve. But funding for the rest of the budget, and whether it conflicts with Gov. Dave Heinemanâ€™s proposed tax cuts, remains a subject of controversy.
Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop renewed the attack on the governorâ€™s proposals, which would add about $140 million to a projected $460 million shortfall in the next two-year budget.
â€œWe must be careful, colleagues, in the next few weeks not to create a crisis for ourselves,â€ Lathrop said. â€œIf we take the deficit to over $600 million for the next biennium, we are creating a crisis for the next Legislature.â€
That drew a rebuke from the governor. â€œSen. Lathrop favors increased spending, and he opposes tax relief for low income and middle income Nebraskans,â€ Heineman said. â€œHis priorities are misguided in my opinion.â€
â€œSen. Lathrop wants Nebraska to take a step backwards,â€ he said. â€œI donâ€™t. I want us to move forward. And the way to move forward is to continue to control your spending, lower taxes, and create a more business-friendly, job-friendly and family- friendly environment.â€
Senators gave the budget bills first round approval. The tax bill has not yet come up for debate.
In the afternoon, senators debated a proposal to reimburse agencies that provided services to children but were not paid under the stateâ€™s controversial child welfare privatization. Agencies which were subcontractors to the lead contractor throughout much of the state outside the Omaha and Lincoln areas say they are owed $2.5 million.
Lathrop, chairman of the Business and Labor Committee, argued that the state should pay the claims, even though the lead contractor â€“ Boyâ€™s and Girlâ€™s Home — was the one who didnâ€™t pay, because the state was obliged to serve the children. â€œWe didnâ€™t discharge that duty because we picked somebody who was incompetent,â€ Lathrop said. â€œNot that they didnâ€™t have a good heart â€“ everybody who came in front of the committee told us they were good at what they did, which was providing services. They had absolutely no experience in coordinating them.â€
Other senators worried that the state would be setting a bad precedent by paying the claims. Among them was Omaha Sen. John Nelson. â€œThe services were provided to the children. They were paid for. They were paid to the lead contractor,â€ Nelson said. â€œI donâ€™t think that the statute says that we have to pay twice, Sen. Lathrop. I hear words like fairness, itâ€™s the thing to do, itâ€™s appropriate. Thatâ€™s not contract law.â€
Senators adjourned for the day without reaching a vote on the proposal.
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