LINCOLN — University of Nebraska leaders made no promises that state funds would be the only public money sought for a comprehensive cancer care center in Omaha, officials told the NU Board of Regents on Friday.
Gov. Dave Heineman on Thursday questioned the move for local tax support, saying he had understood that $50 million was the total amount of tax dollars required for the project.
At President J.B. Milliken's request, the regents meeting agenda for Friday was amended to include a briefing on the topic from NU Medical Center Chancellor Harold Maurer.
The regents were offered explanations of why NU officials sought an additional $40 million in local tax dollars.
“It was public and private all along,” he said. “It was never totally private. The (local) elected officials themselves feel like they would like to chip in on the project. It is an important project for the city and the state.”
He stressed that local officials, not NU leaders, are making the decisions on how to contribute.
Maurer made several points about the project:
• At $370 million, it is the largest project the Med Center has ever undertaken.
• The $50 million from the state would be used to help finance a $110 million academic research tower. Milliken assured the regents that the remaining $60 million of the tower's cost will be raised from private donors, even though legislation approving the tower was worded to allow for fund raising from "other" sources.
• Another $120 million would be borrowed by the Nebraska Medical Center — the privately owned hospital affiliated with the university facilities — to help finance other pieces of the project, a 108-bed cancer hospital and two clinics. The debt would be repaid with patient revenues.
• Plans to raise the remaining $140 million were developed after the legislation was passed last spring. The campaign committee was organized through the NU Foundation and headed by Omaha businessman Mike Yanney and his wife, Gail. That plan proposed seeking $40 million from the City of Omaha and Douglas County.
Maurer pledged that the rest of the money would come from private sources.
“Our intent is to raise $100 million more in private dollars,” he told the board. “We have a detailed plan on how that will be raised.”
Earlier this week the Douglas County Board agreed to provide $5 million in inheritance tax dollars to the project over 10 years.
Regents offered no criticism of NU administrators for seeking additional public funds. They asked for more clarification about how Douglas County's contributions would be used and the status of the project.
However, Regents Tim Clare and Jim McClurg, both of Lincoln, emphasized the importance of maintaining a good relationship with the governor.
“We appreciate the governor, who has indicated his strong support for an important project,” McClurg said.
State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, in a telephone interview, said he wished he would have known earlier that NU would seek additional tax dollars from local government.
“I would have fought harder to get more state money,” he said. “I don't want the city to have to contribute money. I fully support the project and I want it to be built.”
However, three other state senators from Omaha — Appropriations Committee members Heath Mello and Jeremy Nordquist and Revenue Committee Chairwoman Abbie Cornett — released a statement Friday saying they knew last spring that NU might seek local tax dollars.
“Through numerous meetings and presentations, it was made clear to me that public funds, besides those from the state, were on the table ...,” Cornett said.
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