Funds sought for state celebration, capitol fountains

The Appropriations Committee heard testimony Feb. 3 on two bills that would provide funds to observe the state’s 150th anniversary and to place fountains in the state Capitol Building courtyards.

LB704, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, would create the Nebraska Sesquicentennial Fund and appropriate $2 million in general funds. The money would be used to observe and celebrate the 150th anniversary of Nebraska statehood in 2017.

Avery said the bill is a companion to another measure he introduced that would establish a Sesquicentennial Commission to coordinate a statewide celebration of Nebraska’s statehood anniversary.

“This is the seed money that the Commission needs to jump-start the fundraising effort around the state,” Avery said.

Allen Beermann testified in support of the bill, saying he served on two previous state commemorative commissions. He said a commitment of government funds sends a message to private donors that the state supports celebration efforts.

“It makes a great statement to private donors,” Beermann said. “And we have lots of private donors.”

Nancy Fulton, president of the Nebraska State Education Association, also supported the bill, saying it would help school children appreciate Nebraska’s history. The state appropriated $600,000 to Nebraska’s centennial celebration, she said, which would be approximately $4.5 million in current dollars.

Matt Litt, state director of Americans for Prosperity, testified in opposition to the bill, calling it a “$2 million slush fund.”

“We believe that Nebraska can celebrate her birthday without spending this many dollars,” Litt said.

The committee also heard testimony on LB797, introduced by Omaha Sen. John Nelson, which would create the Complete the Capitol Fund for the placement of a fountain in each of the state Capitol’s four courtyards.

The bill would transfer $2.5 million in general funds to the Complete the Capitol Fund in the following increments:
$625,000 on July 1, 2014;
$1.25 million on July 1, 2015; and
$625,000 on July 1, 2016.

The fund also would be authorized to accept gifts, grants, bequests or donations and could be used only for the construction and placement of the fountains. The state Capitol Commission would carry out work on the project.

Nelson said the fountains would complete architect Bertram Goodhue’s original design for the Capitol when construction began in 1922. Under the bill, the fountains would be completed in time for Nebraska’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2017, he said.

“LB797 would provide a moderate amount of public funds to complete the project,” Nelson said, adding that the building is a “state treasure” that belongs to the people.

“We owe it to the people of Nebraska to complete its construction,” he said.

Bob Wickersham of the Nebraska Association of Former State Legislators testified in support of the bill, saying that water currently is not well represented in the architecture or artwork of the Capitol.

“The fountains could become … a recognition of the importance of water as a resource in the state of Nebraska,” Wickersham said, adding that projected ongoing maintenance costs for the four fountains is $1,500 annually.

Litt testified in opposition to LB797. Previous exterior renovation projects were necessary investments in the Capitol’s structure, Litt said, but he questioned funding for decorative elements.

“We have to draw the line between proper maintenance and things that are extra,” he said.

The committee took no immediate action on the bills.

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