Gov. Dave Heineman harshly criticized University of Nebraska officials today, 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.”
The legislature appropriated $50 million this past session to help finance the project, which has been divided into two phases. The university will receive the state appropriation when it raises $60 million in private funding to construct a cancer research tower in Omaha. A cancer hospital and clinic will be added, bringing the project total to $370 million.
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.
Heineman said he wasn’t told the university would seek local public funding and asserted that would have changed the debate on the project.
“Absolutely; and if you don’t think the legislature and I would have come up with a different solution if they had been told on the floor of the legislature, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re going to ask local units of government to come up with an additional $40 million,” Heineman stated. “Oh yes, there would have been a healthy discussion. Where we would have ended up, who knows? But no one was told that.”
Heineman said he was assured that the only public funding needed for the project would be the $50 million from the state.
“(The) university’s credibility and integrity is at stake,” according to Heineman. “We need to be more transparent, more honest and more open. This is a good project, but it was based on that original agreement.”
Heineman said local funding had never been discussed during negotiations at the Capitol.
“They’re on the verge of losing my trust and confidence,” Heineman said of the university. “They need to be more transparent. They need to be more open and they need to be more honest.”
AUDIO: Gov. Dave Heineman criticizes University of Nebraska officials on cancer center funding. [7:40]