Nebraska lawmakers, health care organizations praise, criticize Pillen’s State of the State
Nebraska State Sens. Myron Dorn, Robert Clements and Terrell McKinney (left to right) listen to Gov. Jim Pillen during his first State of the State on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, in Lincoln, Neb. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — State senators, nonprofits and local organizations expressed glee but caution Wednesday with Gov. Jim Pillen’s outlined priorities in his State of the State address.
Much of Pillen’s address expanded upon his budget recommendations, which have been introduced in legislation by Speaker John Arch of La Vista and offered a vision for Nebraska’s trajectory.
State Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood offered his endorsement of Pillen’s work, noting that the recommendations fall within the budget.
“I’m in agreement with his proposals, and I didn’t find anything that I was missing,” Clements said.
Clements, who has just taken over leadership of the powerful Appropriations Committee, and with an excess in state revenue, said he’s a little overwhelmed as he’s “wading into deep water” with his new role, but he said he is taking it one day at a time to support Pillen.
State Sen. Loren Lippincott of Central City, an Appropriations Committee member, said Pillen’s fiscally conservative budget shows a good balance with resources and pertinent issues such as property tax relief.
“Property taxes in the current system have caused a lot of people, number one, to move out of the state and number two, not to move into our state,” Lippincott said. “And I do believe that Jim Pillen addressed that issue today.”
State Sens. Tom Briese of Albion, Executive Board chair, and Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn also praised Pillen for a budget they said was tight enough on spending to offer historic tax relief.
“I think the governor is doing a good job trying to set us up for future success and to get us competitive,” Linehan said.
State Sens. Danielle Conrad and Jane Raybould, both of Lincoln, said Pillen offered transformative priorities, particularly involving education funding.
Conrad added that parts of Pillen’s tax package will earn a wide swath of support across the political aisle, though there are sections she said may be inequitable or unsustainable, and that his “warm, authentic, personal leadership style” continues to stand out.
“I love how he’s not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve when it comes to talking about his passion for Nebraska and his love for his family,” Conrad said. “I think that’s very welcome and very inviting and a really, really neat leadership style that kind of struck me throughout his address to the Legislature.”
‘The stomach’ to maintain funding
Pillen’s priorities also raised concerns about what they do — and do not — address.
Conrad said the governor’s desire to send more state dollars to private religious schools is “misguided.”
“Public dollars should stay with public institutions,” Conrad said.
State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, who challenged Pillen for the governor’s seat, said his speech fell flat, giving her “grave concerns” the new governor doesn’t understand how government works.
“I find it very uninspiring, and I know that public speaking is hard, and I’m sure that he’ll get better with time, but he brought up things that I think are very concerning, and the numbers don’t add up,” Blood said.
Raybould said her main concern is whether future lawmakers will “have the stomach” to maintain the level of funding needed to continue Pillen’s requests year after year.
‘Ignores the crisis’
Blood and State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha also noted a lack of priorities involving health care access and affordability. Blood said notable exceptions from Pillen’s speech included water quality and how to address the environmental disaster from the AtlEn plant in Mead that Blood has focused on.
Nebraska health care and human services providers joined in a statement against Pillen’s budget proposal saying it “ignores the crisis” their field is facing that “we haven’t seen in generations.”
The joint statement was issued by 10 health organizations, including the Children and Families Coalition of Nebraska, Nebraska Hospital Association, Nebraska Rural Health Association and Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations.
“This budget jeopardizes the care that rural Nebraskans — especially our elderly Nebraskans and vulnerable families — have access to,” the joint statement reads, calling on the Legislature to ensure continued access to nursing home care, hospitals, primary and behavioral health care, dental services, developmental disabilities and others.
Jalene Carpenter, Nebraska Health Care Association president and CEO, said in a statement that nursing homes and assisted living facilities rely on state funding, especially in rural communities, and that those issues must be addressed today.
“We can’t leave our elders behind, and we must invest in these care settings,” Carpenter said.
Jane Kleeb, chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, criticized Pillen for his stance to restrict abortion further and support legislation that would harm LGBTQ Nebraskans, two issues she said are pushing young people out of the state more so than taxes.
“When [Gov. Pete] Ricketts created the slogan for the state to be ‘Nebraska, it’s not for everyone’ it was a true reflection of Ricketts’ and now Pillen’s plans,” Kleeb tweeted after Pillen’s address. “… Pillen could live his words of ‘fairness’ and wanting Nebraska to ‘win’ by bringing Dems and Republicans together.”
‘Sinkhole of nickels’
State Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha, Urban Affairs Committee chair, targeted Pillen’s proposal for a new state prison as something he would never support.
McKinney said a new prison is not the solution because another new prison would be needed as soon as the first one is built. He said the ask ignores other needed reforms for mental health or substance abuse issues and workforce skills.
“It’s a waste of taxpayer money, and if we’re looking at every nickel, then that’s definitely a sinkhole of nickels going to something that’s never going to work,” McKinney said.
Correction: This article has been revised to clarify Sen. Conrad’s reaction to the governor’s tax and education proposals.
Nebraska Examiner political reporter Aaron Sanderford contributed to this report.
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