Sunday, April 02, 2006

Tomorrow: Heineman's "April Fools Day"?

by Kyle Michaelis
Monday, Governor Heineman is required by law to release his plans for the state budget.

The Omaha World-Herald reported last week:
A $6.15 billion, two-year budget bill landed on Gov. Dave Heineman's desk after winning overwhelming approval from state lawmakers today.

The governor has until Monday to decide whether to sign or veto the bill, or to strike out specific spending items with line-item vetoes.

Heineman said he plans to use the time to study the proposal. "I'm going to review every line item in detail," he said.

The budget plan, passed on a 41-7 vote, would add $17.4 million to the $6.13 billion state general fund budget that lawmakers approved last year. Both cover the two-year budget period ending June 30, 2007.

The new plan, combined with the previous budget, would result in an average annual spending increase of 7.3 percent. The $17.4 million increase is a net total that includes additional spending and some savings from the budget approved last year.

Big-ticket items include $22 million to replace federal Medicaid dollars, $11 million to help the University of Nebraska, state colleges and state agencies pay higher utility bills, and $8 million for increases in state employee health insurance.

I would consider this a real moment of truth for Governor Heineman - a chance to show his true qualities as a leader - but, to be honest, there have been many of those already, and the truth is that this guy just doesn't have it.

After Heineman's unnecessary and unhealthy politicization of the Omaha school district battle, I just can not put any faith in him to actually do what is right for the state of Nebraska. His actions in that situation have all but made a compromise impossible - whether in the legislature or between the school districts. Heineman showed a stunning lack of tact, common sense, and plain old leadership that all but assured a complicated situation will become a disastrous mess. And, worst of all, it will now fall to the students and taxpayers of Omaha to pay the price for such self-serving political calculation.

That's why I have very low expectations for Heineman's budget action tomorrow. He has taken several shots during the Republican primary for not doing more to hold the line in state spending last year, and the temptation has to be there to silence such criticism once and for all by making irresponsible and unreasonable cuts to the state legislature's plan.

I hope I'm wrong. Still, Heineman follows so closely in the footsteps of his predecessor, Mike Johanns, that I can't imagine him doing anything but making some childish and grandiose budet-cutting gesture to appease the spending hawks in the Republican Party who would rather eat this state's young than see that they have adequate health care and education.

The easy thing to do here - the Johanns (Heineman?) approach - is to play a big ideologically-driven joke on the people of Nebraska, worrying more about the short-term political points to be gained by making cuts than the actual needs of the state. In fact, I would not at all be surprised if Heineman followed the Johanns' model straight down the line, cutting spending so foolishly - pulling off as a big a political stunt as possible - that the legislature's hand is being forced and even invited to over-ride his cuts.

It's the Mike Johanns way. Let someone else do the dirty work, while he treats the Governor's Mansion like P.T. Barnum's circus tent. In 24 hours, we'll see if this is the Dave Heineman way as well.


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