Nebraska Lawmakers, Health Organizations Praise, Criticize Pillens State of the State

LINCOLN — State senators, nonprofits and local organizations expressed delight but caution with the outlined priorities of Gov. Jim Pillen in his state of the state address on Wednesday.

Much of Pillen’s speech elaborated on his budget recommendations, introduced into the legislature by La Vista Speaker John Arch, which offered a vision for Nebraska’s development.

State Senator Robert Clements of Elmwood offered his support for Pillen’s work, noting that the recommendations are within budget.

“I agree with his suggestions and I didn’t find anything that I was missing,” Clements said.

Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen greets State Senator Brian Hardin of Gering as he arrives in Lincoln for his first state speech on Wednesday, January 25, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Clements, who has just assumed leadership of the powerful Appropriations Committee, and with a surplus of government revenue, said he was a little overwhelmed as he was “wading into deep water” with his new role, but said he would one day take a time to support pills.

Central City State Sen. Loren Lippincott, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said Pillen’s fiscally conservative budget shows a good balance between resources and relevant issues like property tax breaks.

“Property taxes in the current system have resulted in a lot of people, number one, moving out of the state and number two, not moving into our state,” Lippincott said. “And I think Jim Pillen raised that issue today.”

‘Future Success’

State Sens. Albion’s Tom Briese, chairman of the board, and Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn also commended Pills for a budget they said is tight enough to offer historic tax breaks.

“I think the governor is doing a good job trying to set us up for future success and making us competitive,” Linehan said.

State Senator Danielle Conrad and Jane Raybould, both from Lincoln, said the pills offer transformative priorities, particularly when it comes to funding education.

Conrad added that Pillen’s tax package will have broad political support and that Pillen’s “warm, authentic and personal leadership style” continues to stand out.

“I love that he’s not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve when it comes to sharing his passion for Nebraska and his love for his family,” said Conrad. “I think that’s very welcome and very welcoming and a really, really neat leadership style that impressed me throughout his address to the legislature.”

“The Stomach” to maintain funding

Pills’ priorities also raised concerns about what they do — and don’t do — address.

Conrad said the governor’s desire to send more state dollars to private religious schools was “misguided.”

“Public dollars should stay with public institutions,” Conrad said.

Bellevue State Senator Carol Blood, who challenged pills for the governor’s seat, said his speech fell flat and left her with “serious concerns” that the new governor didn’t understand how government worked.

“I find it very uninspiring and I know it’s difficult to speak in front of audiences and I’m sure he’ll get better with time, but he’s raised things that I think are very worrying and the numbers add up not,” said Blood.

Raybould said her main concern is whether future lawmakers will “have the guts” to maintain the level of funding needed to continue Pillen’s demands year after year.

“Ignore the Crisis”

Blood and State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha also noted a lack of priorities around health care access and affordability. Blood said notable exceptions to Pillen’s speech were water quality and the management of the environmental disaster at the AtlEn facility in Mead, which Blood focused on.

Nebraska’s health and human resources providers joined a statement opposing Pillen’s budget proposal, saying it “ignores the crisis” their area 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, the Nebraska Hospital Association, the Nebraska Rural Health Association, and the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations.

“This budget jeopardizes the care that rural Nebrascans — especially our Nebrascan elderly and vulnerable families — have access to,” the joint statement said, calling on the Legislature to increase continued access to nursing homes, hospitals, primary and behavioral Health care and dentistry ensure services, developmental disabilities and others.

Jalene Carpenter, president and CEO of the National Health Care Association, said in a statement that nursing homes and assisted living facilities rely on government funding, particularly in rural communities, and these issues need to be addressed today.

“We can’t leave our elderly behind and we need to invest in these care facilities,” Carpenter said.

Nebraska Democratic Party leader Jane Kleeb has criticized Pills for its stance on further restricting abortion and supporting laws that would harm LGBTQ Nebrascans, two issues she says are pushing young people out of the state more than taxes.

“When [Gov. Pete] Ricketts invented the slogan for the state, “Nebraska, it’s not for everyone,” it was a true reflection of Ricketts’ plans and now Pills,” Kleeb said tweeted to Pillen’s address. “… Pillen could live up to his words of ‘fairness’ and wanted Nebraska ‘win’ by matching Democrats and Republicans.”

‘sinkhole of nickel’

State Senator Terrell McKinney of Omaha, chairman of the city affairs committee, targeted Pillen’s proposal for a new state penitentiary as something he would never support.

McKinney said a new prison is not the solution as another new prison will be needed once the first is built. He said the request ignored other necessary reforms for mental health or substance abuse problems and the skills of the workforce.

“It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, and if we look at every penny, it’s definitely a nickel hole going into something that will never work,” McKinney said.

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford of the Nebraska Examiner contributed to this report.

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