LINCOLN, Neb. — Lawmakers rejected an effort Wednesday to subject the University of Nebraska to deeper budget cuts than those recommended by a legislative committee.
Senators voted 32-10 to keep in place a proposed 1 percent reduction for the university in the upcoming fiscal year, rather than Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposal to cut 4 percent from the amount the university was slated to receive.
The smaller cut was approved by the budget-crafting Appropriations Committee after a hearing packed with university officials, students, business groups and other supporters who implored lawmakers not to adopt the Republican governor’s recommendations. University officials warned that the larger cuts would force them to eliminate academic and athletic programs.
The 1 percent cut would leave the university with $574.7 million in state funding in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard proposed an amendment to the budget that would have reinstated the 4 percent cut and reduced state funding to $557.3 million.
Erdman, a conservative who has previously accused the university of being too liberal, said he wasn’t surprised so many groups were fighting the cuts.
“When you come into Lincoln, no matter which direction you come from… when you roll down the window of your vehicle, you can smell taxes,” Erdman said. “This city functions on taxes.”
Lawmakers debated the cuts in the face of state revenues that have fallen short of projections. They still have to approve the overall budget.
Sen. John Stinner of Gering, the Appropriations Committee chairman, said most lawmakers on the committee concluded that cutting too much from the university’s budget could cause long-term damage.
Sen. Adam Morfeld, whose district includes the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the university plays a crucial role in the state economy.
“Look at how many people the university educates and sends out into the workforce,” he said.
Sen. John Kuehn chastised lawmakers for casting the debate as a “false dichotomy” of senators who support the university and those who don’t. Kuehn, a biology professor at Hastings College, said it’s appropriate for senators to protect tax dollars in a tight budget year and question how the university would spend them.
“I wish we had more money to give to higher education. We don’t,” he said.
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