Published Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 9:24 am
WORLD-HERALD EDITORIAL
Editorial: Are tax dollars the answer?

There is little doubt that a comprehensive center to treat cancer patients and do cutting-edge research would be good for Omaha and Nebraska.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center's project would be unique in the region, bringing some 1,200 high-paying jobs and $100 million in revenues. It could elevate UNMC to a place among the nation's top cancer research and treatment facilities and provide top-notch health care.

Which is why the Nebraska Legislature put $50 million in taxpayer money behind this ambitious plan.

But city and county officials should take a deep breath before rushing to spend more tax money on the project.

The project would include a $110 million research tower, a $63 million, 108-bed inpatient center and a $150 million outpatient center. A $47 million ambulatory, or nonemergency, care center also is planned.

When this was announced in January, university officials said they would seek $50 million from the state and that some $200 million more was expected from private donors and “other sources,” with the Nebraska Medical Center incurring $120 million in debt that would be paid off over time with hospital revenues.

So the article by World-Herald reporters over the weekend that UNMC now is asking Omaha and Douglas County taxpayers to kick in another $40 million comes as a surprise.

If this much more were going to be asked of taxpayers, why wasn't that made clear from the start?

The Douglas County Board could vote as early as today on providing $5 million over 10 years from inheritance taxes. And a proposed city ordinance is being drafted that would add an occupation tax of about 35 cents per pack of cigarettes on top of state taxes to fund a $35 million city contribution over 10 years.

While death and taxes are inevitable, the inheritance tax isn't a predictable source of funding from one year to the next. And while state legislators this year shelved a proposal to eliminate the inheritance tax — following pleas from many Nebraska counties that they would have to raise property taxes to make up the difference — that idea no doubt will be back. If the inheritance tax were eliminated, how would Douglas County make good on its pledge?

On the city's side, nonsmokers probably won't care if a new tax is placed on tobacco. But imposing a new city tax for an economic development project at a time when Omaha faces many other fiscal challenges — including the $2 billion sewer overhaul and underfunded pension obligations — raises some troubling questions.

Before taxpayers are asked for more money, they first should be told specifically why the $200 million in private donations hasn't materialized. Then, perhaps, options could be examined.

NU President J.B. Milliken had said during the legislative session that if the state funding didn't come through this year, construction on the UNMC project could be done in stages, beginning with other sources of money.

Could the start of construction, which could come as soon as next year, be delayed while funds are raised? Could the project still be undertaken in stages? Could some aspects of the project be scaled back until sufficient private funds are raised? The city's restaurant tax, implemented in 2010, has exceeded revenue expectations. Could a portion of those funds be used for an economic development project with this much merit?

The UNMC cancer center has the potential to transform the city's and state's economic future. The public and private sectors should continue to work together to get this done. But taxpayers deserve to know exactly why they're being asked to invest more money than they already have.

Read more related stories
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Threat found in Millard West bathroom deemed 'not credible'
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »