Plans to purchase a replacement plane for Nebraska’s governor and state officials to use have been temporarily grounded.
The state has owned small airplanes dating from the 1970 and 80s for decades. Last year, it began leasing a 2001 Beechcraft King Air B200, which can carry eight passengers, from the University of Nebraska Foundation. Now, the Foundation wants to sell that plane to the state for its appraised value of almost $2.2 million. Gov. Dave Heineman’s administration asked for funds to buy it, and sell one of the older planes. A divided Appropriations Committee included that in its budget recommendation.
Supporters say the state Aeronautics Department has been maintaining the King Air for a dozen years, knows it well, and would be getting a good deal. Critics complain that the Foundation is rushing the state by setting a June 30th deadline, and the state should consider other options, including leasing, chartering, or buying a different plane.
Some senators say they’re received a lot of negative reaction to the purchase from constituents. The issue sparked contentious legislative debate lasting until around 11 p.m. Thursday, when senators voted 21-18 for an amendment to take the plane out of the budget. That was four votes short of the number needed. Friday morning, Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers urged lawmakers to reconsider their vote. Chambers supported an amendment by Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton to take the money out of the budget, pending an independent study of what the state should do. A number of senators who opposed taking the money out of the budget Thursday night switched positions Friday. Among them was Sen. Scott Price of Bellevue. Price said he had been concerned the Legislature should not dictate the outcome of the decision, but now was convinced it would not. "I will vote for the reconsideration. I will vote for the amendment, with the understanding that between now and select (Select File, the second round of debate) we’re not going to dictate a solution," Price said. "We’re going to make the decision here this morning on the policy of having a plane and then once we’ve done that, we will put money aside, we will fence money. The professionals will go ahead and do their job. We will have done ours. I believe each and every one of us can go back to our constituents, we can look ‘em in the eye, and say ‘For this reason I believe I that I voted for this policy.’"
Dubas said later she’ll work between now and the second round of debate on making sure money to buy a plane remains available. She said the state could wind up purchasing the King Air after all, depending on the results of the study.
Also Friday, senators gave second-round approval to school aid totaling nearly $2 billion over the next two years. The bill is a compromise between a proposal by the Education Committee that would have sent more aid to small, rural districts, and a formula favored by the state’s largest districts that gave them more money. Overall, school aid will rise from $852 million this fiscal year to $907 million next and $940 million the year after that, an annual average increase of about 5 percent.