- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman on Saturday struck $65 million from this year’s state budget and called on lawmakers to use some of the money for more property tax relief.

The Republican governor used his line-item veto to cut provisions that he argued were lesser priorities for the state, or where the money wasn’t needed or requested by agencies.

“The choice is very clear: Property tax relief or new spending,” Heineman said. “Additionally, I vetoed many other items that expanded the bureaucracy in state government and increased state spending.”

Lawmakers will now have to decide which, if any, budget vetoes they’ll try to override as this year’s session nears an end. Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said members will meet Monday to discuss how to proceed.

Mello said using the vetoed money for property tax relief wouldn’t be sustainable. Many of the items that Heineman cut were one-time expenses paid for through the state’s cash-reserve and other accounts, he said. Most lawmakers have agreed that tax cuts should be paid for through the cash reserve so they can be maintained in the future.

The veto list includes $2.5 million for courtyard fountains at the Capitol, $7.4 million for a juvenile services program that Heineman said was under budget, and $10 million for a state job-training program. Heineman said the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, which oversees the program, hadn’t requested the funding increase and already had money available to meet its needs.

Mello said some of the items vetoed were intended as a contingency for unexpected expenses. And on some items, he said, Heineman and most lawmakers simply disagree.

“Some state priorities won’t fit on a bumper sticker,” he said.

Another committee member, Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, criticized Heineman for approving $3.5 million for a new state airplane. The plane would carry the governor and other state officials around Nebraska, but Nordquist said in a statement that Nebraska “existed for years without an airplane, and we don’t need one now.”

Heineman singled out the Capitol fountains project, which has drawn criticism from conservative taxpayer groups and some lawmakers. The fountains are the last unfinished design feature of the Capitol, which was built in stages between 1922 and 1932. Fountains were to sit in the each of the building’s four open-air courtyards, but the work was halted because of the Depression. Heineman has said the state should look at private funding options.

“For more than 80 years, the Capitol building has existed without fountains,” he said Saturday. “We don’t need them now.”

Heineman called on lawmakers to put an additional $25 million for property tax relief, saying it ought to be a larger priority this year.

Lawmakers have already agreed to a $25 million increase in the state’s property tax credit fund, which would increase the total annual amount to $140 million. An attempt by some state senators to add more money was rejected before it reached Heineman’s desk.

Despite the vetoes, Heineman said he agreed with senators on many proposals within the nearly $8 billion, two-year budget. Among the items approved were nearly $40 million for a new state water sustainability fund, plus a $4.7 million increase for the state’s Developmental Disability Aid Program and $3.2 million for early childhood education.

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