Close to 150 business and community leaders have signed on to a campaign to support the University of Nebraska system.
The group, the One Nebraska Coalition, took out newspaper ads across the state over the weekend. Mike Flood, chairman of the group’s board, said they want to convey the good news of the university and stand up in support of the NU system. Flood is a Norfolk attorney and businessman and a former state senator.
The intent isn’t to scrap with Gov. Pete Ricketts, Flood said, because the state’s budget is pinched, and Ricketts and the Nebraska Legislature are in a bind. The idea is to support NU over the long run, he said.
Flood said the state counts on the NU system to produce engineers, physicians, nurses, lawyers and other professionals.
“I want Nebraska to be affordable, and quality,” Flood said of the university. “And I think a lot of middle-class families rely on that.”
By extension, the campaign also supports the three state colleges and six community colleges, he said.
Ricketts has proposed a midyear cut of 2 percent for the NU system, the state colleges and many state agencies. They would face another cut, of 4 percent, in 2018-19. State revenues for many months have been disappointing.
The governor’s “top priority this session is to balance the budget without raising taxes,” Ricketts spokesman Taylor Gage said Monday evening through an email. “During this period of budget restraint, everyone must step up and do their part.”
One Nebraska’s ad included excerpts from an op-ed piece in The World-Herald by NU Regent Howard Hawks of Omaha. Hawks’ piece said Ricketts’ proposed cuts “would fundamentally change the face of our university, to the point that its vital role as a driver of workforce and economic growth would be dramatically diminished.”
But like Flood, One Nebraska board member Tonn Ostergard said the group in no way seeks to challenge Ricketts. “This is not an adversarial situation,” Ostergard said. “It’s not political in any regard.” Ostergard, of Lincoln, is CEO of Crete Carrier Corp.
Flood said it’s up to the NU system — with campuses in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis — to lobby the Legislature. One Nebraska is focused more on the long haul rather than this legislative session, he said.
Among other heavy hitters who signed the ad are Omaha business leaders Leslie Andersen, Walter Scott Jr. and Mike Yanney, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry in Lincoln, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and Tom Henning of Kearney.