September 16, 2014

Sen. Mello accuses Gov. Heineman of playing politics with cancer center (AUDIO)

A state senator charges Governor Heineman is playing politics in his criticism of the University of Nebraska’s proposed funding of a cancer research center in Omaha.

Gov. Dave Heineman harshly criticized  University of Nebraska officials Tuesday, charging they misrepresented how they planned to finance a $370 million Cancer Research Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

Specifically, Heineman criticized the university for seeking $40 million from the city of Omaha and Douglas County.

“I support the project. I believe the state supports the project,” Heineman told reporters during a news conference in his office. “But, the agreement was the one the University of Nebraska president told us: $50 million from state funds, $120 million in debt financing and $200 million of private fundraising.”

Sen. Health Mello of Omaha says the governor shouldn’t be upset that $40 million might come from Omaha and Douglas County.

“I was disappointed, but not shocked that the governor would continue some kind of political charade regarding the critical funding for UNMC’s cancer research center,” Mello tells Nebraska Radio Network.

The Omaha City Council is considering an increase in the cigarette tax to raise $35 million toward the project. The Douglas County Board of Supervisors has committed $5 million in inheritance tax revenue for the project.

Mello says the appropriations bill, LB 968, gives the university the right to seek local public aid.

“But, the reality is this, we made it very clear in the legislation; we provided flexibility for them to seek private and other funds,” according to Mello. “I’m just disappointed the governor didn’t read the bill and didn’t ask more questions of the legislature before he signed it, then.”

Mello suggests the governor should be looking for ways to move the project forward.

Gov. Heineman’s sharply-worded criticism prompted University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken to issue a written statement stating that he had personally apologized to the governor for any misunderstanding about the financing of the cancer center.

Milliken’s office released the statement late in the afternoon.

“The proposed cancer center was first announced in January, and it was always envisioned as a public/private partnership. It is apparent, however, that our statements were not always clear or consistent, and I understand the Governor’s concern. Governor Heineman and I have had a close working relationship for years, and I have personally apologized to him for any misunderstanding.”

Heineman’s office responded with a written statement of its own, stating that the governor appreciated Milliken’s statement “acknowledging the University’s miscommunications about the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s proposed cancer research center.”

It concluded, “President Milliken and I have a very good, professional relationship, and I want that to continue. I accept his apology.”

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]

AUDIO: Brent Martin interviews Sen. Heath Mello on UNMC cancer center funding. [8:40]