Gov. Pete Ricketts wasted no time in signing three major budget bills into law Wednesday, including cuts for the University of Nebraska of 2 percent this year and 1 percent for the year beginning July 1.

Controversial Title X language in the budget — which Ricketts refers to as a "pro-life" provision — also becomes law. It eliminates federal funding for Planned Parenthood and took hours of negotiation in the Legislature so as not to compromise funding for all clinics that provide Title X reproductive health care.

Ricketts got the bills Tuesday and had five days to review them, but quickly gave his approval with no second thoughts about spending the Legislature approved.

"The budget adjustments I have signed help to further control state spending," Ricketts wrote in an email statement. "Together, the Legislature and I successfully reduced the rate of spending growth by over 90 percent in the last three years." 

With the governor’s signature, NU will receive $574.7 million in state funding for the 2018-19 school year, down from $580.5 million it was originally appropriated in the two-year budget approved by lawmakers in 2017.

Ricketts had proposed cutting NU’s state funding by 4 percent in his budget adjustment plan released in January, but lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee said a cut that deep would have caused long-term harm to the institution.

The committee voted to restore 3 percent of NU’s funding next year and the plan later survived an attempt by Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard to set the university’s funding at the level proposed by Ricketts.

NU President Hank Bounds said the budget signed by Ricketts puts the university "in a much better place than where we were a few months ago," when NU identified a slew of academic and athletic programs on the chopping block if the proposed 4 percent budget cut was adopted.

While NU won't face as deep of cuts, the university is still addressing "significant budget challenges," Bounds said, particularly in cutting $30 million in several administrative areas.

As that work continues, NU said it will consider options for how it will address the additional 1 percent loss in state funding.

At least two members of the NU Board of Regents — Chairman Rob Schafer of Beatrice and Tim Clare of Lincoln — said they'll push administrators to look for additional efficiencies, rather than vote to increase tuition rates.

Last year, regents approved a 3.2 percent tuition hike for the 2018-19 school year, but have not adjusted that rate since. Regents will meet again June 28.

In the meantime, Bounds said NU is ready "to join with our many partners on a plan to grow our state for the future."

Schafer added: "We're ready for all of us to start working together to make Nebraska not only the greatest place in the country to educate youth, but to keep them here in the state gainfully employed."

The Nebraska State College System and Nebraska Community College System both also will see a 1 percent drop in their state aid next year.

Appropriations Committee Chairman John Stinner said the Legislature did a good job of vetting the budget over weeks of hearings and committee discussions. 

"Obviously, Title X was contentious, but we did get some language in there that mitigated some of the concerns, not all of them," Stinner said. 

The budget maintains the existing level of Title X funding, Ricketts said, providing reproductive health care for thousands of Nebraska women and men. 

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland will receive about $270,000 in Title X funding this year, down about $20,000 from the prior year, said spokeswoman Susan Allen. The organization helps its patients offset the cost of their health care through Title X and private funding, each having requirements about ages of people served and type of services.

"Without Title X funding, some individuals will not be able to receive care unless they pay for it completely out of pocket, which means they most likely will go without the care they need and deserve," Allen said. 

Ricketts said the state's $8.8 billion, two-year budget will grow at 0.5 percent, a more than 90 percent reduction from the rate of state spending before he took office.

It provides a total of $448 million in property tax relief over two years.

The Legislature adopted Ricketts' recommendation for additional appropriations to child welfare for this year and next. Nebraska has seen a significant increase — about 9 percent annually, or about 485 kids — in the number of children coming into the state’s child welfare system, he said.

The Department of Correctional Services will get funding for an additional 100 beds at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. This builds on three other capital construction projects funded in the past two years.

The budget contains an additional $2.7 million in funding for Nebraskans with developmental disabilities. And it adds $3.1 million for the homestead exemption program to reimburse local governments. The state’s homestead exemption program provides property tax relief for low-income, elderly Nebraskans and low-income veterans with disabilities, among others.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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