OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Gov. Dave Heineman doesn't think it would be fair for Omaha to tax smokers to help pay for a new University of Nebraska cancer research center because the $370 million project is already getting state tax dollars.
Heineman said Monday that he still supports giving the project $50 million in state money, but he told the Omaha World-Herald he doesn't want local tax dollars to be used. The governor began criticizing the university's financing plan for the project earlier this month.
Heineman told the newspaper that a tax on Omaha smokers would appear to be "double taxation" because some of the smokers' tax dollars are already going to the project.
The governor's spokeswoman did not immediately respond to email and phone messages from The Associated Press on Monday.
Douglas County has already pledged to contribute $5 million to the project, and the Omaha City Council is considering a 35-cent-per-pack cigarette tax to raise $35 million for the project.
Last week, university President J.B. Milliken apologized to Heineman for not clearly stating they planned to seek additional public support for the project. University officials plan to attend Tuesday's public hearing on the cigarette tax to explain the benefits of the project, but they declined to comment Monday on Heineman's concerns.
The university estimates the cancer center will create 1,200 high-paying jobs and provide a significant boost to the Omaha economy.
"This continues to be one of the most promising initiatives in our history, and I am truly excited about the potential for cancer research and treatment as well as significant economic development," Milliken said.
Heineman said he accepted Milliken's apology for the misunderstanding, but clearly he still has concerns about the way the project is being paid for.
But the Omaha City Council will decide whether to support the cigarette tax to help pay for the cancer center.
The $370 million project will include space for cancer research and care, and a new multi-disciplinary outpatient facility.
Gov. Dave Heineman: www.governor.nebraska.gov
University of Nebraska: www.nebraska.edu