An Ohio Senate Finance Committee amendment to the state’s operating budget bill would ensure that funding for airport improvements is not diverted to other purposes. A second provision would ensure that the Ohio Department of Transportation retains control over the distribution of funds to airports around the state.
"We’re strong believers in all our general aviation airports in this state," said state Sen. William P. Coley II (R-District 4), an AOPA member and vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Coley introduced the amendment to House Bill 64, the state’s operating budget bill for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, to make sure the spending plan protects "as much infrastructure as we can afford" in "the birthplace of aviation," he said in a telephone interview.
AOPA supports Coley’s amendment, said Bryan Budds, AOPA Great Lakes regional manager. The association's approximately 12,000 members in Ohio believe strongly that funding for airport infrastructure should not be subject to diversion to other purposes, Budds said.
AOPA has urged the Senate’s Finance Committee to protect aviation infrastructure accounts, which have experienced "a significant stagnation" of funds available for state and federal grants in Ohio. Such stagnation could erode the competitiveness of the state’s system of 150 airports, which serves an industry that contributes $1.8 billion annually to Ohio’s economy and supports 17,000 jobs, he said.
AOPA also has objected to the budget provision that would give a quasi-legislative body, the Ohio Aerospace and Aviation Technology Committee, authority over airport grants—limiting the ability of state aviation officials to equitably distribute funds for aviation construction projects across Ohio. That provision also would be eliminated under Coley’s amendment.
"Certainly the Ohio Aerospace and Aviation Technology Committee is poised to do great work in Ohio and we look forward to continuing to work with the committee, but our members have told us loud and clear that airport funding decisions should continue to come from the great staff of professionals at the Ohio Department of Transportation Office of Aviation," Budds said.
As the budget moved through legislative review, AOPA made its positions known in a letter to members of the Senate Finance Committee, and through contacts with AOPA members who live in districts represented by committee members, urging advocates and elected officials to work to ensure that the additional $6 million included in the budget for airport improvements does not go to nonaviation purposes such as loans to nonprofits, and development of unmanned aircraft systems technology.
"Our members feel very strongly that airport infrastructure dollars should be spent at their community airports," Budds said.
Over the last year, AOPA has pressed for additional funding for Ohio’s aviation accounts. As the budget bill has made its way through House and Senate review, association staffers have made personal appearances at the Capitol in Columbus, and have offered testimony explaining the impact of stagnant funding on the competitiveness of the Ohio aviation sector, Budds said.
Coley, an instrument-rated pilot, was to be one of the six members of a Senate/House conference committee that would complete the budget negotiations, he said.