Wednesday, February 26, 2014

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.

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.

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