Nebraska lawmakers debate whether to rent or buy new plane

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — Debate took off Wednesday on whether to spend about $3.6 million to buy a new airplane for the governor and other Nebraska officials.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist

Lawmakers will resume debating the bill Thursday morning. Omaha Sen. Bob Krist introduced the bill, which would allow the state to lease or buy an airplane. The plane the governor primarily used to travel was recently sold by the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Last session, lawmakers balked when Gov. Dave Heineman proposed buying the foundation’s plane for about $2.5 million. That plane was a 2002 Super King Air B200 turboprop and has since been sold for $1.9 million.

Since last session, lawmakers spent $3,800 to study whether it would be more cost-effective to buy the foundation plane, buy a new plane or lease a plane; the study recommended the state buy a 2013 Beechcraft C90.

“It is my opinion that the state of Nebraska does need air travel,” said Krist, an Air Force veteran and pilot. He said lawmakers made a good decision when they opted not to buy the foundation plane, and he considers the C90 the best, safest option.

While the bill could be amended to lease or charter planes, Krist said leasing is “extremely difficult and expensive.” The cost to lease a plane comes close to the cost to operate a purchased plane annually, and leased planes aren’t on call all the time. At the end of 20 years, a plane owned by the state would still be worth about $1.5 million to $2 million, Krist said.

The state owns two other planes — an eight-seat 1977 Piper Navajo and an eight-seat 1982 Piper Cheyenne — and Krist has recommended selling the Cheyenne, which the governor now uses, and using the proceeds to help buy a new plane.

Sen. Dave Bloomfield, R-Hoskins, said he thinks the state needs a plane and he’s leaning toward buying one.

“I believe this is a good investment and we should proceed with it,” he said on the floor.

Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, D-Omaha, got an amendment passed that would require quarterly reports on how the plane is used, including the purpose, destination, duration, people on board and stops made. He said he’d rather allocate a certain amount of money annually for state officials to spend on travel, including chartering planes.

Sen. Ernie Chambers, I-Omaha, said he hasn’t decided whether the state should buy or lease a plane or if anyone should be allowed to fly anywhere at state expense.

“Let them get out on the road and drive and see what the ordinary citizen encounters,” he said. “Look at the countryside, enjoy Nebraska, see what’s going on.”

Sen. John Harms, R-Scottsbluff, said he supports the bill because it’s important to keep state officials safe. He said he didn’t feel very safe while flying in one of the state planes with a ceiling tile falling.

“I think it is important to make sure our people are safe,” he said.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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