Veto sustained on funding school energy efficiency projects

An attempt to override a governor’s veto failed May 11 on a bill that would expand an existing authority of school districts to levy property taxes and issue bonds for capital projects to include energy efficiency projects.

LB283, introduced by Malcolm Sen. Ken Haar, would have included energy efficiency projects in the $0.052 levy school districts receive for the Qualified Capital Purpose Undertaking Fund (QCPUF).

QCPUF allows expenditures for environmental hazards, accessibility barriers, life safety code violations, indoor air quality and mold abatement. Under the bill, energy efficiency projects would have included:
• inspection and testing regarding energy usage;
• maintenance to reduce, control or eliminate energy usage; or
• restoration or replacement of material in new or existing school grounds or buildings that would reduce or eliminate energy usage.

Senators passed the bill April 28 on a 27-19 vote. Gov. Dave Heineman subsequently vetoed the measure.

In his veto message May 4, the governor said special bonding authority has been limited primarily to life, health and safety issues. The definition of energy projects in the bill is vague and could greatly increase the use of bonding authority, he said.

Heineman also said LB283 could result in “reduced voter oversight” in projects that could result in property tax increases. Bond issues for energy efficiency projects should not be outside of the levy limits, he said, unless approved by a vote of the people.

Haar disagreed with the governor and argued that energy efficiency is a public health issue. A significant number of schools have old lights, he said, which can cause headaches and eyestrain in children.

Furthermore, he said, the bill would result in a property tax increase only if the school board had a public hearing and decided to use funds from QCPUF.

“There is nothing more locally controlled than school boards,” Haar said.

The motion to override the governor’s veto fell 6 votes short, at 24-20.

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