New commercial partnerships with Nebraska airports could take off, if approved by voters

Oct. 19, 2022, 3:34 p.m. ·

Lincoln airport terminal. On the left side there's a woman wearing a mask and holding a black suitcase and hand bag.
People wait inside the Lincoln Airport for their trips. (Photo by Melissa Rosales, Nebraska Public Media News)

Nebraska voters will decide if airports can use tax funds to lure more opportunities for airlines in the state.

State senators unanimously approved a legislative resolution that would put Amendment 1 on the November ballot. Business and airport advocates said the amendment will allow Nebraska airports to strike partnerships with commercial airlines to secure more flight schedules.

A 2020 opinion from Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson determined airports couldn’t use revenue from property taxes to partner with private contractors such as commercial airlines.

In the opinion, Peterson said the partnerships would violate Article 13, Section 3 of the state constitution’s ban on giving state credit to businesses, except in the case of educational loans.

Senator Lou Ann Linehan
Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (Senators' photos courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

State senator Lou Ann Linehan, chair of the legislature’s revenue committee, said she initially questioned the proposed amendment, citing concerns that it would raise property taxes. However, in the news conference Wednesday in the capitol’s rotunda, Linehan said the new opportunity won’t raise taxes, but allow airports new options for how to use their revenue funds.

“It’s not going to be raising anyone’s taxes. There’s no new revenue involved here,” Linehan said. “We have a situation where, with our airports, we have tied one hand behind their back when it comes to competition with airports all across our nation.”

Linehan said she considers Amendment 1 to be an opportunity for smaller communities to help grow business and not rely on other taxes. The state senator pointed to Kearney’s use of its lodging tax stream.

“They bring people from all over the state. They take their lodging taxes and help support their airport. If they could do this – use their lodging tax to have an agreement to bring another airline in and more commercial flights – they would have more lodging tax.”

Business groups, including the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, support Amendment 1, saying it could help strengthen business travel between Nebraska airports and across state lines.

Nebraska state senator Eliot Bostar. (Photo courtesy of Nebraska Legislature)

State senator Eliot Bostar, who’s leading the Amendment 1 campaign, said the new opportunity for local airports is especially critical during a time when airlines are discontinuing flights to smaller cities.

“We have a pilot shortage, which means airlines have to be very selective about where they're flying, because they can't go everywhere that there's demand,” Bostar said. “They're going to choose places that are able to better create partnerships with them.”

Bostar, a pilot himself, said the amendment would put Nebraska airports on par with others across the country.

“That’s become an industry standard now. What airlines look for now is the ability to partner with airports and partner with communities,” Bostar said.

“That’s what we’ve been unable to do, so hopefully now that will help turn things around in Nebraska.”