LINCOLN — The state senator who shot down state plans to buy a 12-year-old airplane believes Gov. Dave Heineman and other state officials need access to air travel.
But State Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton said she has questions about whether the state needs to own an airplane and, if it does, what type and age of airplane would serve the state best.
“I think there are options out there,” she said. “It’s just what are the options?”
On Friday, she persuaded her colleagues to ground plans — at least temporarily — for the purchase of a twin-engine Beechcraft Super King Air B200.
Senators approved an amendment removing $2.2 million from the state budget package that was earmarked to buy the plane from the University of Nebraska Foundation.
The amendment calls instead for doing an independent analysis of the best way to provide air transportation to the governor and state officials.
Dubas, who offered the amendment, said she will work over the next few days to figure out a mechanism for the state to buy an airplane if the analysis recommends that path.
Dubas’ amendment fell short in a vote taken late Thursday night. But Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha filed a motion to reconsider the vote.
On Friday morning, the motion prevailed and the amendment passed 26-14.
Chambers said state aeronautics officials had not done comparison shopping before deciding to buy the King Air. He cited former President Ronald Reagan in arguing for the analysis.
“Trust, but verify,” he said.
On the other side, Sen. John Nelson of Omaha argued for buying the King Air because state pilots have maintained and flown the craft since the foundation bought the plane.
“We’re buying something that we know, a bird in the hand,” he said.
Sen. John Wightman of Lexington backed the purchase because, he said, the governor likely would not travel to western Nebraska as frequently without a state-owned plane.
“I think people need to see the governor,” Wightman said.
The governor had sought funds to buy the King Air before June 30, when the state’s lease on the craft expires. The state owns two other aircraft, which officials could use if they lose use of the King Air.
The amendment on the airplane was the only change lawmakers made in the $7.8 billion, two-year state budget package.
Senators gave first-round approval to the last piece of the package Friday morning. All seven bills advanced without dissenting votes.
Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha described the package as “a moderate proposal that makes moderate spending growth” and prioritizes education, from early childhood through college.
The package would boost state spending by an average of 5.2 percent per year for the two fiscal years starting July 1.
It leaves an estimated $55 million over the two years for new programs or tax measures.
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