New state airplane purchase advanced

Senators gave first-round approval Feb. 27 to a bill that would authorize the purchase of a plane for state use.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist introduced LB1016, which would authorize the state Department of Aeronautics to purchase a new aircraft and sell the state’s current plane. Krist said it is an important investment to make for the state.

“It is not an easy decision to decide to invest in this kind of travel, but the state of Nebraska does need air travel,” he said.

The bill is the product of legislation passed last year that commissioned an independent study to determine whether the state should purchase an aircraft for state purposes. The completed study recommended that the state purchase a new aircraft.

The study commissioned by the Legislature indicated the King Air C90GTx would have the lowest costs over a 20-year life cycle. A new King Air C90GTx would retail for approximately $3.85 million.

An Executive Board amendment, adopted 28-0, removed a provision in the bill that would have authorized the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency to operate, maintain and hangar the plane. A Krist amendment to the committee amendment, adopted 29-0, removed options to charter or lease a plane and instead authorizes the state only to purchase a plane.

Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield supported the bill, saying it represents a better investment for the state than the used plane that was available in 2013.

“I do believe we need a state airplane, but the idea of the one we had the opportunity to purchase last year versus this new one is black and white,” he said. “This would be more fuel-efficient and safer. We should spend a little more money to get the new one.”

Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist introduced an amendment, adopted 28-0, which would ensure that the plane is used only for state business. He said it would prevent the plane from being used for campaign purposes and other abuses.

“Whether it’s leased, chartered or owned, this would ensure [the plane] is used for the appropriate purpose,” he said. “It would prevent the governor from traveling to a state function and then making nonstate function stops on the way back.”

Under the amendment, the department would be required to electronically file a quarterly report that details the name of the agency or entity using the plane, the name of all passengers, all purposes of the trip, the destination and intermediate stops and all miles flown.

Nordquist introduced an amendment to his amendment that also would require the duration of the trip be noted in the report. It was adopted 28-0.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers opposed the bill, saying it did not go far enough to prevent potential abuse.

“There is nothing currently in statute to prevent a governor from deciding to travel to multiple sites on different days when they could all occur in one day,” he said. “I don’t believe that one of these airplanes needs to be owned by the state. None of the reasons [I’ve heard] are persuasive to me.”

Senators voted to advance the bill to select file on a 31-3 vote.

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