Concerns about how well Nebraska cares for its rural airports emerges during debate on a proposal to merge the Department of Aeronautics with the Department of Roads.
The merger would create a new agency called the Department of Transportation.
The sponsor of LB 339, Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, tells colleagues Nebraska would join most states in creating a centralized department to regulate and promote all forms of transportation.
Some legislators aren’t impressed.
“I have to tell you I’m suspect that this is going to produce major savings or even efficiencies,” Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, a pilot, worries the merger will de-emphasize air transportation at a time when it should be emphasized.
Krist adds the issue doesn’t concern just Omaha and Lincoln, but could have more of an impact in rural Nebraska, pointing out nearly every senator has some sort of airport in his or her district.
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus picks up on the theme, saying Nebraska has plenty of good rural airports, but they need help to stay viable, especially since most fixed-based operators have gone out of business.
“As we talk about economic development and what might bring people to rural Nebraska and people to the state in general, air transportation I think may be even more important than fiddling with an income tax rate,” Schumacher says.
Friesen, chair of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, is carrying the legislation for Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The legislature advances LB 339 on a 40-0 vote with six senators not voting.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]