With a budget session coming up in January, Kentucky lawmakers are taking an early look at state aviation needs. A legislative hearing on the topic was held this afternoon in Frankfort.
The Department of Aviation has 35 employees and an annual budget of around $10 million. The department oversees three fixed-wing aircraft and one helicopter. Two other planes under the department’s control were sold at auction last month. At least two other state agencies also have aircraft and Rep. Jimmie Lee of Elizabethtown wants to see an inventory of the state’s air fleet.
“To at least know what kind of aircraft we have and just exactly what agency is responsible for those aircraft,” he says.
A new state budget will be approved next year and lawmakers want to know more about how state money is being spent on aviation, including funding for general aviation airports, runway repairs and improvements, and weather equipment. The use of road fund dollars for aviation needs, and the fate of a six percent sales tax on jet fuel in Kentucky are also expected to be part of the ongoing discussion.That tax on jet fuel is coming under increased scrutiny. The tax, paid by Kentucky-based airlines, raised nearly six million dollars last year. That’s down from previous years. The tax is capped annually at one million dollars per carrier, and the airlines generally reach the cap quickly. Some lawmakers think it may be time to lift the cap, so the state can raise more revenue for aviation needs.
“Well, airlines don’t want to give money to anybody right now. They’re having a hard time staying afloat,” says Department of Aviation Commissioner Winn Turney when asked his opinion on lifting the cap. “You’d have to ask the legislature and the airline people themselves what they think about that. I’m sure they would get together and talk about it, but I have no idea what would happen.”
Also in the hearing, Kentucky Representative Will Coursey of Benton brought up that the state no longer has an airplane to use in the current fight to eradicate mosquitoes. Western Kentucky is battling a major mosquito outbreak in the wake of record spring flooding. Coursey says he made some inquiries and was told the state airplane formerly used for mosquito spraying has been sold.
“I asked how they were handling the problem and they said that they were sending out pickup trucks to the individual sites, where there were complaints, which is really just kind of putting a band-aid,” he says.
Last month, the state auctioned off two fix-winged aircraft Gov. Steve Beshear said were no longer needed. Neither of the planes was suitable for mosquito spraying.