Rainy day money may go to Capitol fountains, state parks

2014-02-27T18:15:00Z 2015-11-10T17:17:14Z Rainy day money may go to Capitol fountains, state parksBy JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

The Capitol courtyards and state parks could benefit from one-time transfers from the state's rainy day fund.

The Legislature's Appropriations Committee, which recommends state spending for the 2014-15 budget year, gave preliminary approval Thursday to sending $15 million to the Game and Parks Commission and spending $2.5 million to renovate the Capitol courtyards.

The parks would also receive $2.5 million from the State Recreation Road Fund to do deferred maintenance.

The committee is finalizing the state budget bills, which are expected to be advanced to the full Legislature next week. On Wednesday, it gave preliminary approval to $11.7 million in initial funding from the cash reserve for a heating and cooling renovation project at the Capitol that will cost $77 million over 10 years.  

The courtyard renovation project came to the committee from a bill (LB797) introduced by Omaha Sen. John Nelson that would place a fountain in each of the Capitol's four courtyards. The fountains would mark the completion of architect Bertram Goodhue's original design when the Capitol's construction began in 1922.

The goal would be to complete the renovations in time for Nebraska's celebration of its 150th year as a state in 2017.

Addition of the fountains and a set of murals were postponed in 1932 during the Depression, when unemployment reached 20 percent in the nation. The murals were later completed and installed in 1996.

At a hearing on the bill in early February, Nelson said the Capitol is a state treasure.

"It belongs to the people, and we owe it to the people to assure it's complete," he said.

Former Sen. Bob Wickersham said water is one of Nebraska's great resources, but it is not represented well in the Capitol. The fountains could be that recognition.

They would cost about $1,500 annually to maintain.

The committee also recommended $17.5 million be appropriated for deferred maintenance and improvements for state parks, as proposed by bills (LB874 and LB1033) introduced by Sen. Tyson Larson and Dan Watermeier. About $2.5 million from the State Recreation Road Fund would be spent on projects at Ponca State Park for upgrades to the existing swimming pool and 12 two-bedroom cabins to replace existing cabins. 

The money also would allow for priority renovation projects at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park so operation and management of the park could be transferred to a local group in the Nebraska City area.

Appropriations Chairman Heath Mello emphasized that funding is contingent on the outcome of the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meeting Friday, final votes by the committee and approval by the full Legislature and Gov. Dave Heineman.

Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.

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