July 30, 2014

Bill to buy new state airplane advances in Unicameral

Nebraska would buy a new state airplane under a bill advancing in the legislature.

Legislators have easily advanced LB 1016, sponsored by Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha. It would authorize spending $3.6 million to buy a Beechcraft King Air that could take six passengers on a 600 mile trip.

The proposal grew out of a disagreement last year over a proposal by Gov. Dave Heineman that the state spend $2.2 million to buy a King Air airplane from the University of Nebraska Foundation for the governor and state officials to use. The state currently leased the plane from the foundation for $10,000 a month, but the foundation decided to sell it.

Legislators rejected the governor’s proposal and, instead, decided to study the issue.

Sen. Krist announced earlier in the session that the study came down in favor of buying a new state airplane.

Not everyone thinks it is a good idea.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha opposes the move, telling colleagues during flood debate the plane will be abused by future governors.

“The governship is a highly political and politicized office,” Chambers says. “This plane can be used for campaign purposes. These types of planes, other modes of transportation, even the people who are state employees, such as state troopers who might drive a governor, will be used for campaign purposes.”

Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk counters the criticism by relating a story from when he served on the state Board of Education.

Scheer tells of flying to Scottsbluff with the governor to visit a western Nebraska school that boasted great success with an innovative reading program.

“And there are some innovations and some changes in education that are directly attributed to that trip,” according to Scheer. “So, it’s not just the governor flying around, cutting ribbons.”

Krist, a pilot, says buying new would be wiser than trying to lease a plane.

“And I would hope that all elected officials would shoulder the responsibility of being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” Krist says. “To that end, I think this is a smart investment and good stewards of managing taxpayers’ money.”

The bill will have to clear a couple of more votes before it is sent to the governor.