State Budget Update: considering the good and the bad

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With the recent approval of the state budget by law makers, opinion editor Jessica Wade considers the good and the bad of the new budget.
Jessica Wade

Months of uncertainty regarding the financial future of the Nebraska University (NU) system is soon coming to an end with better than expected results.

The Nebraska Legislature on April 3 gave a final round of approval regarding the state’s $8.8 billion budget package, the final step before heading to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ desk for approval.

Under this budget, the university will receive a cut of $11 million for the current year, and a reduction of $6 million for next year’s funding. A substantial amount of money, but a far cry from the $23 million cut originally proposed.

Any cut to higher education is unfortunate, but the decision to greatly reduce the cuts shows that the Nebraska Legislature recognizes that the future of higher education and the future of the state go hand in hand.

It’s unfortunate that the same outlook wasn’t applied to family planning resources.

As Ricketts moves forward with signing off on the budget, he will also be signing off on a bill that will cut federal family planning funds, effectively targeting the Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland is a nonprofit that, according to the group’s website, “provides, promotes and protects reproductive and sexual health through health services, education, and advocacy.”

Known as LB 944, the bill was voted in favor of by 38 senators, and only six voted against it.

Meg Mikolajczyk, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland associate general counsel and senior public affairs manager, released a statement after the bill advanced to its final stage.

“Whether the governor likes it or not, Planned Parenthood is the leading provider of family planning care,” Mikolajczyk said in her statement. “Women know us, women trust us, and there is no substitute for the expert level of care we provide. There is no legitimate reason that our 8,000 patients should have to try to go somewhere else, especially when there really isn’t anywhere else for them to go.”

Ricketts has expressed that the bill’s language is meant to be anti-abortion. However, shutting off funding to planned parenthood won’t just prevent women from access to safe abortions, it will also prevent access to affordable healthcare and birth control, STD testing and cancer screenings.

If Ricketts and other anti-abortion advocates want to stem the amount of abortions carried out in Nebraska, they should consider keeping open the avenues of comprehensive sex education and affordable birth control—two things that prevent unwanted/unplanned pregnancy in the first place.

As Mikolajczyk put it, “No one should be forced to choose between affording birth control or putting food on the table –but that could be the new reality for many low-income women. Gov. Ricketts is trying to cut off access to family planning services – birth control, STD testing, and cancer screenings – for Nebraskans already struggling to get by.”