On Tuesday, March 13, we begin the budget debate. As I’ve written about before, Nebraska’s struggling economy has produced a tax revenue shortfall of about $173 million.
We have to cut spending to close this gap and we have 20 legislative days left to do it.
When we get to this point in a legislative session, most especially when budget cuts are necessary, all the lobbyists line up to protect their interest’s ration of tax dollars.
They issue all kinds of dire predictions if their particular interest suffers cuts in funding. There are agencies of state government that have their own lobbyists — paid with your tax dollars – to lobby the legislature.
I strongly oppose one part of state government paying tax dollars to someone to try and convince another part of state government to give it more tax dollars.
This week, I want to talk about an agency of our state government that does this. This same organization used college students as pawns to fill the rotunda to lobby senators this week.
Every Nebraskan has at least some fondness for the University of Nebraska. That’s why it’s so heart-breaking to watch the leadership team at our university continue to make bad choices and produce some very disappointing results.
As it turns out, they aren’t any better at managing money than they are governing the behavior of their faculty and staff towards conservatives.
Just this week, a University of Nebraska associate professor dropped off a “bloody” Barbie doll in my office, implying my support for the 2nd amendment makes me complicit in the deaths of high school shooting victims.
If this is how she treats a conservative state senator, imagine what it’s like to be a conservative student in her class.
Our university is the largest employer in our state with nearly 17,000 employees. It receives about $570 million in state tax money in FY 2017-18.
Over the past decade, more than 30 states have reduced state funding for higher education on a per student, inflation adjusted basis.
Since 2011, the university’s total budget has grown by 23% while tuition and fees have grown by 45%. The cost of administrator salaries has grown by nearly 40%.
Nebraska was one of only 5 states that have increased funding for higher education on a per-student basis in the last 10 years. There are many ways the university can cut redundancy, waste and inefficiencies from their operation.
Our university employees enjoy a huge number of perks, in addition to their generous salaries and benefits. They have their own employee and dependent scholarship program, reduced tuition rate for classes.
Employees at UNMC enjoy an employee and dependent scholarship program and discounted tuition. Retired employees can apply for tuition discounts for themselves, spouse and dependents.
Full-time employees can transfer their tuition privileges to spouse or dependents. They also enjoy discounts at the campus computer store and health center as well as discounts at all kinds of local businesses, and of course discounted football tickets.
They get generous maternity and paternity leave, fertility aid, dependent care, adoption assistance, childcare, work-from-home privileges, bring pets to work privileges, reduced or flexible hours, family medical leave and unpaid extended leave.
They receive more than 3 weeks of vacation per year, five paid holidays, volunteer time off and sabbatical privileges. The UNO chancellor has a country club membership and an $800 monthly vehicle allowance. The university president enjoys a country club membership, gas, service and insurance for a vehicle, $2,000 per month for housing expenses and housekeeping services.
More than 1,000 University of Nebraska employees make salaries over $100,000 a year, paid for with Nebraska taxpayers’ dollars.
The former-senator lobbyist they just hired is paid $165,000 a year.
Before the leadership decides to close a dental hygiene program in western Nebraska, or close an agricultural extension office in rural Nebraska, they need to do the hard work they are so generously compensated for and clean up the waste in their budget.
The University Regents whom you elect need to hear from you. Remind them the constitution says the legislature “may” fund the university. It doesn’t say “must.”
I support the modest budget cuts the governor has proposed for the university. Balancing our budget is a constitutional “must.”
Many thanks to Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom for helping me pull some of this data together.
Sources: NE Dept. of Economic Development, NE State Higher Education Officers 2015, University of Nebraska FY 2016-17 and FY 2017-18 operating budget and salary information, NU Operating Budget 2011-2018, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; [email protected] Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.