A state spending plan for the next two years, totaling $8.6 billion, has been approved by the Unicameral and moved into position for final passage.
A controversy in the first round, which took up hours of legislative floor debate earlier was resolved in the second round. Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Omaha, will be allowed to access $8 million for its dental school. Some state senators objected to providing public funds for a private school, even though accepting the money would obligate the school to serve Nebraska’s poor.
A compromise makes the money available to other schools, such as the University of Nebraska College of Dentistry.
The spending blueprint is based upon spending growth of 3.1%, roughly in line with the proposal made by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
One senator disputes that number.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Heath Mello of Omaha acknowledged the dispute during floor debate.
“I don’t want to spend the afternoon refuting and debating Sen. Groene in regards to his interpretation and his creation of his own budget numbers, because arguably what we use is what the Legislative Fiscal Office produces,” Mello before allowing Sen. Mike Groene to explain to the legislature how he arrived at a different spending growth calculation.
Groene, a state senator from North Platte, said the 3.1% growth figure is misleading, because it excludes such things as capital improvements, legal settlements, even cash reserves. Once those are counted, the spending percentage is much higher, according to Groene.
“But what’s troubling is 3.1 will stick into your head, will stick into the taxpayer’s head; will be the headlines,” Groene said. “And the last day we go home and we’re done, that’s the number that will stick into their head and the reality will not be 3.1, it will be closer to 4%.”
The budget will need to pass on final reading to be sent to Gov. Ricketts.