Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog
Three Omaha area state senators and Governor Dave Heineman are in a war of words today following Nebraska Watchdog’s ground breaking reports on the funding of a $370 million cancer research center.
Heineman accusing Appropriations Committee members Heath Mello and Jeremy Nordquist of cutting a “secret deal” with the University of Nebraska.
Heineman first told Nebraska Watchdog on Thursday that when the state approved $50 million for the University of Nebraska Medical Center project he was led to believe the rest of the money would be raised privately.
“The President of the University of Nebraska, 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?”
The Douglas County Board this week okayed $5 million from its inheritance tax fund while the Omaha City Council is poised to shell out $35 million by creating a new 35-cent a pack city cigarette tax.
In a statement released today Nordquist, Mello and Revenue Committee Chairperson Abbie Cornett said there were no surprises.
“The bill clearly stipulates that the state’s funding is contingent upon the University raising ‘private or other funds’, which the Governor should know assuming he read the bill before signing it,” said Nordquist.
However, testifying before the Appropriations Committee on February 2, NU President J.B.Milliken said that in addition to the $50 million from the state the project included “$120 million of debt issued by our hospital partner (Nebraska Medical Center), and then $200 million in private fund-raising…we believe we will have, you know, a significant challenge but one that we’re confident we can meet in raising that $200 million in private money.”
“As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I not only assume they will seek funding from local and federal sources, I expect them to,” said Mello. “If the Governor doesn’t like the way it is financed, then he needs to come forward with ideas rather than criticism.”
Cornett added, ”Through numerous meetings and presentations, it was made clear to me that public funds, besides those from the state, were on the table as an option.”
Today, in an interview with Nebraska Watchdog, Heineman said given Milliken’s testimony, “There must have been a secret deal” between the Appropriations Committee and the University. “No one else knew,” said Heineman.
In addition Heineman said Mello had a conflict of interest voting for the $50 million because Mello’s wife works for UNMC.
Mello tells Nebraska Watchdog that there is no conflict because his wife’s employment is funded through alumni dues and private funds.
“I’m disappointed but not shocked that Governor Heineman would drag my wife and her employment into his political charade instead of explaining why he called the University of Nebraska a ‘wealthy special interest’ and didn’t support state funding for the University of Nebraska’s Cancer Center in the first place,” said Mello.
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