By Governor Dave Heineman
As we begin the 2013 legislative session, I look forward to working with the Legislature and our citizens to keep Nebraska moving forward. This is a great state and it starts with our citizens.
Nebraskans are hard-working, practical, responsible, and innovative. As Nebraskans, we bring a sense of quiet pride to everything we do. We respect each other and we want our children to have an even better Nebraska in the future.
Nebraska is a special place. We are on the right path and that path starts with a quality education. Education is the great equalizer and education is one of our state’s top priorities. We invest in education because we know how important it is.
More than ever before the focus of our school districts is now on academic achievement. We can be very proud that Nebraska’s high school graduation rate is 86 percent – the 4th best in America. We have good schools, and they want to be even better in the future.
My proposed budget continues to make K-12 education a priority by increasing state aid to education from $852 million to $895 million in fiscal year 2014 and to $939 million in fiscal year 2015. Additionally, I am proposing a 5 percent increase in special education funding in each of the next two years.
Our students of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and it is critical to our future that they have affordable access to a quality higher education. Last week, University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken, Nebraska State College Chancellor Stan Carpenter and I announced that the University of Nebraska and Nebraska’s State Colleges are prepared to implement a two-year tuition freeze for Nebraska students if the legislature approves my proposed budget. My recommendation provides the necessary state funding to achieve this two-year tuition freeze for UNL, UNK, UNO, UNMC, Chadron State, Wayne State and Peru State.
This is very good news for Nebraska families who are working very hard to ensure that their sons and daughters can afford to go to college. Community colleges are an important component of our education system, as well. I am proposing a similar increase in community college funding for each of the next two years so that each of our six community colleges can also consider adopting a two year tuition freeze.
As we continue to make state government more efficient and more accessible to our citizens, I want to recognize our technology professionals throughout state government for what they do. From online motor vehicle registration renewals to our 511 system that provides immediate and accurate information about current road conditions, our goal is to provide more and better technology in the future.
I am also very pleased to share with you our efforts to have state workers make wellness a part of their everyday lives. We offer an innovative wellness program and a health insurance package designed around wellness. In 2012, the State of Nebraska wellness program became the first and only state program to earn the coveted C. Everett Koop National Health Award. To receive this prestigious award, you have to demonstrate health improvements and cost savings.
After just three years, the State of Nebraska has seen a $4.2 million reduction in claims, strong participation rates and high satisfaction among employees. Our focus on wellness is resulting in a healthier work force and our insurance premium increases are significantly lower than the national average.
We balance our budget in state government by controlling spending, not by raising taxes. We don’t spend money we don’t have.
This conservative approach has led to positive national recognition. Lending Tree said Nebraskans have the lowest average monthly mortgage payment of any state in America. 24/7 Wall Street named Nebraska the third best run state in America. Gallup has recognized Nebraska as the fourth best state to live in.
Nebraska has good schools, affordable homes, a strong work ethic and a low unemployment rate. We want Nebraska to be an even better place to live, to work and to raise a family in the future.