LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman used his veto pen Saturday to strike $7.8 million out of the Legislature’s $7.8 billion state budget package.
The general-fund vetoes included money for a new University of Nebraska Medical Center nursing college building in Lincoln and part of the funding to renovate the Nebraska State Historical Society Museum.
Also lined out were increases in state support for affordable housing, mass transit, homeless shelters and a program that links volunteer advocates with abused and neglected children.
Heineman praised the work of the Appropriations Committee and the Legislature and characterized the vetoes as using a scalpel to refine the budget.
“I want to emphasize that we are in agreement on the majority of funding issues, and I have used limited line-item vetoes to merely trim the budget in a manner that is more responsible for the taxpayers,” he said.
With his vetoes, the budget package would increase state spending by an average of 5.2 percent in each year of the two-year budget period. That’s the same amount as the package passed and sent to his office by lawmakers Monday.
Heineman had five days to sign or veto the bills or issue line-item vetoes.
State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, the Appropriations Committee chairman, noted the Legislature passed the budget bills with only a few dissenting votes but said he would not comment about specific vetoes until he has had time to review them in detail.
“I appreciate the governor’s overall vote of confidence,” Mello said.
Appropriations Committee members will meet Tuesday morning to decide whether to propose overriding any of the vetoes. Individual senators also can propose overrides.
Heineman let stand most additions to his budget recommendations, including funds to serve more people with intellectual disabilities and for early childhood education.
But he vetoed $3 million for the nursing college building, which he said was deemed a lesser priority when lawmakers approved three other major University of Nebraska construction projects.
This year’s budget would have used savings from one of the other projects, a veterinary diagnostic laboratory, to help fund the nursing building.
Heineman said he believes the savings should have come back to the state, and that the nursing college proposal be subject to more scrutiny.
NU President J.B. Milliken did not respond to a request for comment on the veto Saturday.
Heineman vetoed several items that he said would restore previous budget cuts, replace one-time or federal funds with ongoing state funds, provide special increases to certain programs and employees or create new programs.
Among them was money for the Court-Appointed Special Advocate program, money to expand dental services at the state’s six community health centers and money to give county court employees raises higher than that of other state employees.
He struck $4 million worth of transfers from the Securities Act Cash Fund that had been earmarked for homeless shelters, affordable housing and legal aid services. He said the vetoes would preserve the $4 million to be used for tax relief and budget stabilization.
He also vetoed a $2 million per year increase in mass transit aid, which goes to support bus systems in Omaha and Lincoln. Heineman said the money should be used for road construction benefiting the entire state.
Lawmakers and the governor were of like mind in providing enough money for the University of Nebraska and state colleges so those institutions can freeze in-state tuition for two years.
They also were in agreement on setting aside funds for a new veterans home in central Nebraska, meeting requirements of the federal health care overhaul and boosting payment rates for child welfare, child care and health care providers.
Heineman said the budget focused on priorities of education, economic growth and rebuilding the cash reserve fund.
Growing state tax collections are expected to boost the rainy day fund from the current $384 million to an estimated $627 million by June 1, 2015.
Heineman said some of that money could be used for tax relief and reform, which he named his top priority for next year.
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