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LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman is calling for a “no” vote on a pay raise for state lawmakers, saying they don't deserve it because the Legislature passed — over his veto — a bill providing taxpayer-funded prenatal care for illegal immigrants.
“This was such a huge decision and out of sync with the priorities of Nebraska,” Heineman said Wednesday. “How do we defend giving illegals taxpayer funds when we need it for legal Nebraska kids and legal Nebraska families?”
Two legislators who support the constitutional amendment to raise lawmakers' salaries said there should be no relationship between the November ballot issue and the Legislature's approval of the prenatal care measure, Legislative Bill 599.
State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, speaker of the Legislature and a key supporter of LB 599, said the pay issue is about the Legislature as an institution, not about how it votes. Raising the salary from $12,000 to $22,500 a year will allow more Nebraskans to consider serving in the office.
“Raising the salary will help future generations,” said Flood, who is leaving office due to term limits. A pay raise, he added, has been supported in the past by the Republican Party. Both Flood and Heineman are Republicans.
Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, chief sponsor of the pay raise amendment and an opponent of LB 599, said he was “frustrated” by the governor's stance.
“It doesn't make sense to link the two,” Lautenbaugh said. “The rationale for a pay raise has nothing to do with that specific bill.”
Heineman's comments revive the most emotional measure tackled by the Legislature this spring. It also lays the groundwork for another tense debate over prenatal benefits when lawmakers return to Lincoln in January. An effort to repeal LB 599 is anticipated.
This isn't the first time Heineman has made a connection between legislative performance and the pay raise issue.
Last spring, the governor said that if lawmakers wanted a pay increase, they should pass his proposal to cut state income taxes.
Heineman's tax plan was trimmed considerably before it was passed. The Legislature, meanwhile, broke ranks completely on the prenatal care measure.
On a 30-16 vote, senators overrode Heineman's veto of LB 599, which restored a state policy of providing taxpayer-paid prenatal care for low-income, illegal immigrants.
While opponents like the governor framed it as a violation of a law that bars state benefits for illegal immigrants, supporters said it was more complicated and that prenatal care protects the lives and health of unborn fetuses.
It was a pro-life issue, they said, because proper prenatal care helps ensure a healthy birth and avoids life-long developmental problems for babies who automatically become U.S. citizens upon birth. It was also fiscally prudent, supporters maintained, because an increase in birth defects and problem deliveries would cost taxpayers even more money because the state would be financing the health care of more children with birth defects and other disabilities.
Heineman said that if LB 599 is repealed, he would support a pay raise for senators.
The governor said he supports providing the prenatal care, but that it should be provided by private charities and churches, not taxpayers. The money spent on LB 599 — a projected $650,000 in state funds and $1.9 million in federal funds a year — would be better spent on state aid to schools, he added.
Heineman said Wednesday that he expects “an explosion of illegals” moving to Nebraska because of its funding of prenatal services. Two academic studies, from 2000 and 2001, dispute that, concluding that immigrants settle near jobs and family, and that welfare benefits are not a factor.
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