LINCOLN — Gov Dave Heineman called it “double taxation” Monday for the City of Omaha to consider an occupation tax on cigarettes to fund a new cancer center at University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The statement, made during a morning press conference, opened a new front in the governor's criticism of the university's fund-raising campaign for its planned $370 million cancer treatment and research center.
The governor said Monday that he has no plans to ask the Nebraska Legislature to rescind $50 million in funding approved earlier this year for the research tower portion of the project.
But, he said, asking Omaha smokers to pay a 35-cent per-pack occupation tax on cigarettes to support the project was unfair when their state tax dollars are already supporting the project.
Heineman said if he was a resident of the city, he'd consider passage of a smokers' tax as “double taxation.” That's because smokers are already contributing to the project, via sales and income taxes paid to the state.
The Republican governor has been critical of NU officials for not being upfront with him about seeking more public funding for the project beyond the $50 million approved last spring by the state. In testimony to state lawmakers this spring, the university said it would raise the remaining funds through private sources and through bonded debt.
Heineman, on Monday, said he's patched up relations with the university after NU President J.B. Milliken apologized last week for not being “clear or consistent” about NU's intentions to seek money from other government sources.
But he said it's now up to the Omaha City Council to decide if it's appropriate to adopt the cigarette tax.
The Douglas County Board recently authorized $5 million for the project, and the Omaha City Council is considering an occupation tax on cigarettes to raise $35 million.
The council will hold a public hearing on the cigarette tax proposal Tuesday. But the proposal appears to have enough votes to pass five of the seven council members have signed on in support.
The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District is also considering some funding for an aspect of the cancer center project.