Published Monday, March 12, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:57 pm
World-Herald editorial: NU projects are priority for state

Nebraska lawmakers have a two-part obligation: First, they need to assess the state's needs. Then, they need to set priorities.

The University of Nebraska has put forward a bold set of health-related initiatives, including a new cancer research center in Omaha.

Those projects are a state priority. They deserve support. Nebraska lawmakers need to keep that in mind this week when they debate the budget.

The Legislature's Appropriations Committee recognizes the importance of NU's "Building Healthier Nebraska Initiative."

While it is unfortunate that full funding couldn't be found in this year's budget environment, the committee has worked hard to find a sensible approach that provides support while remaining fiscally prudent.

The committee didn't give NU everything it wanted, but it did agree to provide enough funding — a proposed $71 million of the $91 million initially requested — so that all but one of the projects could move forward. In addition, though this wasn't included in the university's original request, the committee recommended supporting the construction of a new Veterinary Diagnostic Center over the next decade.

The lawmakers' approach would call for private matching dollars and keep the state's cash reserve at a reasonable level.

It's a sound plan.

Under the committee's approach, the state would provide the University of Nebraska Medical Center with $50 million in two installments for a cancer research center, provided that $60 million in private dollars is raised.

That research facility would elevate UNMC to a level comparable to that of the nation's top cancer research and treatment centers. The UNMC project, which also would include inpatient and outpatient facilities, would give a major boost to the Omaha and Nebraska economies.

Sounds like a priority.

So is supporting Nebraska's agriculture industry. That's why the Appropriations Committee has agreed to pledge to pay off $50 million in financing bonds for a new Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The current facility dates from the mid-1970s and has been in danger of losing its national accreditation.

The Appropriations Committee also recognizes the need to address the state's nursing shortage — another priority.

That’s why the committee proposes providing $15 million of the $19 million originally requested for a new facility at the University of Nebraska at Kearney that houses the UNMC nursing and allied health professions programs. The lawmakers said they couldn't find funds, however, for a $17 million nursing facility at UNL. They found the UNK facility to be the higher need.

That's called setting priorities. Which is what the full Legislature needs to do this week by giving support to the Appropriations Committee's NU recommendations.

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