By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN – Buried within the thick budget proposal released by Gov. Dave Heineman today is a proposal to buy an airplane for $2.2 million.
The governor’s budget proposal includes money to purchase a Beechcraft Super King Air B200 from the University of Nebraska Foundation.
Budget documents say the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics has a lease-purchase agreement with the foundation with an option to buy the plane any time before the lease expires on June 30. The Aeronautics Department’s budget request also includes nearly $284,000 to upgrade the avionics system of the airplane and nearly $7,400 to insure it — for a total of $2.5 million in costs.
State Budget Administrator Gerry Oligmueller said the plane has been operated by the Aeronautics Department and used by foundation and higher education officials and the state has an opportunity to buy it and sell a 1982 Piper Cheyenne airplane. That would reduce the Aeronautics Department’s current fleet of three airplanes to two.
Heineman said it’s important for the governor and state officials to be able to traverse the state in a state airplane. The university and “anybody in state government” willing to pay the cost of using the plane can do so, he said.
However, Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist said he doesn’t think spending $2.2 million on a state airplane should be a priority when needs for funding of things like children’s mental health care are “crying for money.”
“I don’t know why a plane would be a priority,” he said. “The governor has a driver to drive him around.”
The aeronautics department’s budget recommendation says one of its goals is to upgrade the state-owned aircraft fleet “to ensure continued mission support at the highest levels of comfort and safety.”
The University of Nebraska Foundation has not returned a phone call seeking comment.
Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.