LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman wants to upgrade the state plane by purchasing a $2.2 million model for sale by the University of Nebraska Foundation.
The governor's proposed budget includes a request to buy a 12-year-old Beechcraft Super King Air B200 turboprop. The governor and state agencies currently lease the plane when it's not in use by the foundation.
Gerry Oligmueller, the state budget officer, said the purchase would allow the state to sell a 31-year-old plane that is often grounded for maintenance and repair.
But state Democratic Party Chairman Vince Powers said it looks bad when the governor wants to buy a plane while also seeking changes to the tax system that could raises expenses for lower-income Nebraskans.
“The symbolism is ... the governor proposes a tax system that hurts the middle class and the working poor, and along the way he gets a new plane,” he said.
The governor has proposed ending some sales-tax exemptions so the state can abolish its individual and corporate income tax. Because he has not yet indicated what exemptions he would target, it's unclear just how such a tax shift would play out.
The plane would be available for use by all state agencies for official business, not just by the governor, Oligmueller said. He questioned those who would criticize the need to buy a safe, reliable aircraft for state use.
“I find it a bit appalling,” Oligmueller said.
Although owned by the foundation, the Beechcraft is flown and maintained by the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics. Under a lease agreement, the department has an exclusive option to buy the plane until June 30.
The state currently has three planes in its fleet, including the Beechcraft.
The Beechcraft would replace a 1982 Piper Cheyenne, which likely will need engine replacement in about five years at an estimated cost of $500,000, according to budget documents. State officials currently use the older plane when the foundation aircraft is unavailable.
If the Legislature approves the plan, the state would immediately seek to sell the Piper for about $235,000.
There would be two other advantages to buying the foundation's plane instead of a different model, Oligmueller said. Because it's already part of the state's fleet, the plane would not require an estimated $30,000 inspection. In addition, the state's pilots would need no special training to learn how to fly the plane.
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