If Nebraska's state legislators knew $13.7 million in state tax dollars could help secure10,000 good jobs and an annual economic impact of $1.3 billion, most would gladly write the check.

If voters knew the same $13.7 million would fend off a threat of downsizing or losing Nebraska's second-largest employer, many would pressure those state senators to act.

And if both understood that a $125 million capital investment by the employer hinged on the timing of receiving those funds, the state would find the money quickly or feel the public's wrath.

That's the situation facing the 27-member Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, which holds in its hands the opportunity to help secure the future of Offutt Air Force Base for Nebraska.

This is no normal, $13.7 million grant application for a water project that's competing with others for money from the state's Water Sustainability Fund.

This is a generational opportunity to help preserve a big chunk of the state's economy and tax base. And a deadline is fast approaching.

The 19 miles of levees that protect Offutt and surrounding land from flooding need strengthening, federal authorities insist. Offutt also needs a new runway to help make sure the base remains home to the Air Force's 55th Wing.

But without the levee improvements, federal officials won't spend a dime on that needed runway. This, in spite of last week's good news from U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry that things are looking up for the replacement runway. They'll turn downward in a hurry if the levees don't get fixed.

Local governments are doing their part, stepping up to share in the $25 million total cost of levee upgrades. But the $13.7 million state water grant is critical to making the project a reality.

The members of the State Natural Resources Commission are tasked with weighing the Offutt grant request on its merits and comparing those needs and benefits with other proposals from around the state.

State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, whose legislative amendment helped rural interests secure funding for these water grants, calls the Offutt levees "probably the most important issue facing the state."

No need to hedge: There is nothing else the resources commission could spend money on that would have as large a statewide economic impact as protecting Offutt.

Mello pointed to the Offutt levees when the Legislature first debated the bill that created the water fund. Making the levees eligible for this program boosted lawmakers' support.

The water fund plans to award $29 million in grants statewide this year. There are those who argue that the $13.7 million for Offutt's levees would give the Omaha area an unfair share.

That's the kind of divisive argument that some Omaha lawmakers made when the state spent millions to resolve the long-running dispute with Kansas over Republican River water in southwest Nebraska. In the end, that deal was good for all Nebraskans.

What matters here is that Nebraska's best interests would be served by guaranteeing the future of a major employer whose presence enriches the whole state.

The men and women at Offutt protect Nebraska and the nation. Nebraska can afford to grant $13.7 million to protect the base's 10,000 jobs and a regional economic impact of $1.3 billion.

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