Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Lawmakers Give Aeronautics Panel Its Independence

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Lawmakers Give Aeronautics Panel Its Independence

Article excerpt

Oklahoma legislators and Gov. Frank Keating have decided to turn some things back the way they were in 1963.

Keating has signed House Bill 2307, making the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission an independent agency, as of July 1. It is a division of the Oklahoma Department of Transportation.

A companion bill, Senate Bill 125, sets up the infrastructure for an independent aviation agency. The Senate passed that bill Wednesday. It is now under consideration in the House.

"Since we're still waiting on legislative action, this is not a completely done deal, yet," said Director Bill Miller.

The Senate bill also details how the commission will be funded. Right now, it receives some state general fund appropriations as well as some federal money.

"We are basically self-funded, though," Miller said. "We get most of our budget from aviation fuel taxes and taxes on airplanes sold in the state."

Still, nearly everyone in the know expects the final bill to the pass the House easily.

The already-signed bill separates the commission from the transportation department, while SB 125 sets up the infrastructure and allows other agencies to set up funding mechanisms for the agency.

Most commission supporters applauded passage of the bill, because this marks the third time the commissioners have tried to separate from the department.

On two previous occasions, the separation bills were approved by the Legislature, but Keating vetoed them.

Now, the legislation is allowing the commission to turn back the clock, so to speak.

"What this does is take us back to when this agency was created back in 1963," said Director Bill Miller. "Effective July 1 (the beginning of the state's fiscal year) we become a stand-alone aviation agency.

"We will still be working to better the ... aerospace industry in Oklahoma.

"This industry has an economic impact on the state of between $11.5 billion and $12 billion annually. That's a pretty good sized industry that we need to protect and help grow."

State officials should work to help the industry that includes Tinker Air Force Base, Vance Air Force Base in Enid and Altus Air Force Base as well as the Mie Monroney Aeronautical Center at Will Rogers World Airport, Miller said.

The agency's charter is to "foster, encourage and support aviation" in the state.

Not many changes will be made in the basic administrative change, but it will mean a lot to the aviation community, Miller said.

"What it means is that the state government now recognizes how important this industry is and has recreated a stand-alone agency to work to improve it," he said.

In the short term, the state's aviation community may not notice any changes in the commission or in how it operates.

Although the agency is to become a stand-alone unit, it still will be related to other transportation operations, like the Oklahoma Transportation Authority and the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority. …

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