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NE exclusive: Governor wants answers on cancer center funding

By   /   September 13, 2012  /   11 Comments

Dave Heineman: ‘The University of Nebraska Medical Center is a fundraising juggernaut.’

Joe Jordan| Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN — Calling the University of Nebraska Medical Center a private fundraising “juggernaut,” Gov. Dave Heineman today pushed back at plans to raise Omaha taxes to help pay for a new cancer research center .

In an exclusive interview (listen here) with Nebraska Watchdog, Heineman—who calls the project important— said the $370 million deal was to be funded with $50 million from the state and the rest from private sources.

“The president of the university, nor any other university official, ever told me that someone was going to ask the city of Omaha, the Douglas County Board or any other local unit of government up there for additional funding,” said Heineman. “The clear implication is it was going to be raised through private donors. So what’s going on now?”

Chris Jerram

Councilman Chris Jerram is leading a move to raise $35 million over 10 years with a new 35-cent per pack city cigarette tax.

Jerram tells Nebraska Watchdog he’s got four co-sponsors — adding up to five votes, enough to pass the tax. The plan goes to the council Tuesday. A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 25 with a final vote likely Oct. 2.

As Nebraska Watchdog first reported, mayoral hopeful Brad Ashford wants the university to slow down and “get the City Council off the hook.”

Ashford, a state senator, voted for the $50 million in state funds.

Asked by Nebraska Watchdog if the University may have run out of private donors Heineman was less than sympathetic.

“They haven’t had that conversation and if that’s what is going on as Senator Ashford suggested, they ought to be public about it,” said the governor. “(NU) President (J.B.) Milliken ought to show up at the City Council and explain, ‘Here’s what happened.’”

Heineman also appears skeptical.

“The University of Nebraska Medical Center is a fundraising juggernaut,” said the governor. “They’ve been able to raise the money for any project they wanted so far.”

Contact Joe Jordan at joe@nebraskawatchdog.org

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  • OmaSteak

    It would be more appropriate for the Governor to ask the question about how city government in Omaha is levying sales taxes disguised as “occupation tax” and how he proposes to have the legislature address curbing that abuse of taxpayers. As for UNMC getting county and city elected officials to authorize millions in taxpayer funding for the project, everyone should know that UNMC wields significant political power with local pols and it’s much easier to bully them into spending other people’s money than to spend the time/effort on private fund raising. They are also handing UNMC a significant competitive advantage over both Alegent/Creighton and Methodist Health System who don’t have such easy access to state/county/city taxpayer dollars.

  • Biff

    The gov needs to clean up his own mess before he inserts himself here. All of a sudden in interested in Lincoln city and Omaha city-level politics. How about telling citizens why — when state government has been cut to the bone — he continues to seek tax cuts in the face of the $500 million budget shortfall that has been forecast for the coming biennium. Any good businessman (and government should be run like a business, right?) doesn’t arbitrarily cut off a funding source in the face of higher costs.

  • Bryan

    You are kidding right Biff? UNMC breaks promises made in order to secure $50 million and they shouldn’t be questioned? How about explaining how Douglas County can provide $500,000 a year from inheritance tax revenue when they fought Heineman’s tax cuts based on the fact that they did NOT have any extra $$$ and revenue from the inheritance tax was critical? Lies, lies, lies! I’m glad Heineman has the guts to call them all out. It’s my $$$ and I want answers too!!!

  • Biff

    It was $35 million yesterday, the gov gets involved and now it’s $50 million. I’ll tell you what, if Omaha doesn’t want it, we’ll take the research center here in Lincoln. What a boon (and a tax revenue producer) this project will be in the long run.

  • Pat Boyle

    I’m asking the question: If UNMC operates from govenment funding and access funds from the goverment and has an advantage over it’s competition, then isn’t UNMC a “socialist” program?
    I’m trying to figure it out so if someone could explain it…Sports analogies are always appreciated.

  • Kirk welch

    I’m sick to the bone of UNMC and/or anything having to do with The University of NE. being able to basically write their own ticket on any project they want. It was cigarette taxes that paid for the Devaney Center, when the University wanted the ground to expand in Lincoln they traded off for moving an ailing State Fair to GI. How many people will travel from Lincoln, Omaha and York to GI to look at farm exibit’s? Central NE. got screwed on that deal big time. We have very little in the way of Services left in Central NE. and have been bleeding gov jobs to Lincoln and Omaha for yrs. our vets now have to travel another 100 to 150 mls to get the same services they could get in GI. Our parks are being abandoned and gates by the State so Lincoln and Omaha can add new bike trails and compete against each other. In the mean time I don’t see our taxes going down. How about we tax everyone that’s 20# overweight $5.00 a lb for every lb they’re over? Bet we would see the pork hit the fan then.

  • ricky

    Well what do you know I agree with the Governor on something. Don’t ask Omaha for money for this thing U Nebraska! You built an $18 million dollar basketball practice facility and pay BO $3 million a year for doing a bad job! Fund it yourself!
    ricky from omaha

  • D. Mark

    Remember these City Council members when they come up for re-election!

  • jazzee

    I agree with you steak and as a smoker I am dang tired of them going after us.. hey jerram boy how about we put a special TAX on lawyers let you idiots pay for it. I am so tired of everyone wanting more money -go raise it stop targeting one group of people just like they did with the ‘restaurant’ tax and they STILL tell us the pension fund is in trouble…ARGGGGGG

  • ToucheTurtle

    BIff, this discussion has NOTHING to do with whether we should build the cancer research center or not. It has EVERYTHING to do with how do we pay for it!!!!

    Just so you know, I would PREFER to drive a caddy with all the cushy seats, lots of bells and whistles, and painted in candy apple red! HOWEVER, I can’t afford to buy my dream car BECAUSE I don’t have the money. So guess what???? I will dream about my own personal caddy, but know it may never happen. WHY? Because until I know how I am going to pay for it, I REFUSE to spend the money!!!

    You want this facility? Then find a way to pay for it WITHOUT discriminating against a segment of our population. After all, this facility will benefit ALL Nebraskans, not just the smokers. Why don’t you and like thinkers get off your duffs to go out and RAISE the money for the project!!! Be constructive and help raise the $$$ from people like Warren Buffet who pays less taxes than he thinks he should . . . . surely he NEEDS a tax write-off and a building with his name on it!!!!

    And by the way, the last time I knew the governor is STILL entitled to his right to free speech, independent from his job title!!!! The shortfall has to do with where the University is looking to get their additional investments, and the governor, when presented with the concept of the project, was led to believe private investors would fund the balance. Doesn’t he have an obligation to TELL the taxpayers of Nebraska the truth??? What a novel idea!!!!!

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    Hey, jazzee, why don’t you QUIT smoking and then you wouldn’t have to worry about any cigarette taxes. Oh, I know, it’s your RIGHT to smoke and get emphysema or cancer and then drive up all of the non-smokers’ insurance premiums and the rest of society’s medical costs to cover your selfishness. On the other hand, double the amount you smoke and perhaps in a couple of years we won’t have to worry about your posting here any more.

    More importantly, as a Morrill Land Grant Institution, the State of Nebraska has a legal obligation to support the University of Nebraska system to provide a low cost, public Higher Education to the residents of Nebraska – a mission that the Johanns-HeineyMan Reich has FAILED at miserably for the past decade plus in their ever-growing quest to deny higher education to all of those in the State, except those who can afford to pay exorbitant amounts of money to send their children off to receive a quality higher education that EVERY Nebraskan is entitled to by law.