Several bills of interest to the Oklahoma Aerospace Alliance, which pertain to the state’s burgeoning aviation and the aerospace industry, are still alive and kicking in the state Legislature this spring. The two garnering the most attention are House bills 2082 and 2085.
Most often referred to as the Airport Modernization Bill, HB 2082, if passed and signed into law, would allow Oklahoma’s 49 regional business airports the opportunity to apply for grant monies for the construction or renovation of terminals and hangars, as well as for the preparation or improvement of approaches.
The Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission, which would administer the grant program, has requested $40 million of one-time state money to fund the program. Serving as principal author of HB2082 is Rep. Mike Jackson, along with a long list of state representatives and senators serving as co-authors.
Enjoying support from both sides of the aisle, HB 2082 has been seen by many legislators – and airport constituents as well – as a bill that could help regional airports lure prospective businesses to their local communities. Those businesses are the ones that create jobs in those communities and help spur additional economic development activities. Many of these business owners cite the presence of a general aviation airport, especially one that is jet-capable, as a key reason for either locating or expanding their business in a particular community.
HB 2082 quickly made its way through the House committees and subcommittees and easily passed the full House on March 6 by a lopsided 96-4 vote. It then headed for the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government and Transportation where it nearly met its demise. But thanks to some last minute visits, phone calls and e-mails from several key public and private officials, the bill survived and was passed unanimously by the subcommittee.
The next step, and perhaps the most challenging, for HB 2082 was the full Appropriations Committee, which met April 4. As part of a lengthy agenda that included more than 50 bills, HB 2082 was situated almost at the end of the agenda – which may have been a blessing in disguise. When the committee finally got to the bill, co-author David Myers had little time to introduce the bill as committee members quickly interrupted his introduction and motioned for a “do-pass” vote. There was no discussion, no debate; the bill passed 13-0.
Despite the fact that HB 2082 may eventually pass the Senate, the prospect of lawmakers fully funding the bill’s $40 million price tag is slim at best. With grumblings about fewer state dollars to work with next year, it’s looking more likely that the Airport Modernization Program could wind up with just a fraction of the $40 million request or nothing at all. Stay tuned.
To see House Bill 2082 remaining alive throughout this legislative session may be surprising to some given the state’s current revenue status; however, the fact that House Bill 2085, the Engineer Workforce Bill, is still breathing may be even more surprising. Just as with HB 2082, Rep. Jackson is the principal author of HB 2085, while co-authors are representatives Shane Jett and Jabar Shumate, as well as state Sen. Mike Mazzei.
If enacted in its current form, HB 2085 would provide tax credits of up to 30 percent each year for five years to Oklahoma aerospace companies that hire engineering graduates, as well as tax credits of no more than $5,000 per year for five years for engineering graduates who choose to work for Oklahoma aerospace companies. One provision that was recently stricken from the bill would have provided tuition rebates to students. Industry officials have indicated that they will work with legislators to get that provision back into the bill.
HB 2085 passed the House rather easily in mid March, despite the fact that it almost met its demise while still in committee. But after some revamping and massaging of language that was acceptable to legislative and industry leaders, the bill continued its way through the House and now the Senate. Most recently, the Senate Finance Committee gave the bill a “do-pass” recommendation.
The aerospace industry in the U.S. is one that currently enjoys a $40 million trade surplus with other nations. Not many other industries can tout that kind of success. Much of it can be traced to talented and bright engineers who have kept up with new technologies and innovations that have allow the U.S. to compete globally. Certainly, great news for our nation. But there are fewer of these engineers in the pipeline than in years past –a troubling reality for the nation, especially when China and India are annually producing four to 10 times as many engineers. Supporters of HB 2082 are hopeful that this legislation will help reverse that trend.
Besides House bills 2085 and 2082, there are other aerospace-related bills that are of interest to the OAA. For instance, the OAA has encouraged state lawmakers to fully fund the Oklahoma Aerospace Institute. You may recall the OAI was first established in 2006 by HB 2819 as part of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. OAI’s purpose is to serve as a strategic partnership among public and private entities to strengthen Oklahoma’s economy.
Two of OAI’s initiatives are the Center of Excellence for Aerospace Technology and the Center for Aerospace Supplier Quality. CEAT would use applied research and technology transfer to create more opportunity for innovation and job creation. CASQ was designed to help Oklahoma aerospace companies compete for the millions of dollars worth of government contracts annually awarded at Tinker Air Force Base by the Department of Defense. However, CEAT and CASQ were not funded last year, and so HB 1445 by Rep.Gary Banz would provide the $900,000 in funding that was absent in last year’s bill.