Lawmaker approve aid to Tulsa airline

Tuesday, February 12th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A fledging Tulsa airline will receive $9 million in state income tax credits under a bill given final approval Tuesday in the Oklahoma Senate.

Proponents argued that helping Great Plains Airlines was the only hope the state now has to have nonstop jet service to major East and West coast destinations in the United States.

Nonstop air travel is essential for the state's economic development, the bill's supporters said.

The measure now goes to Gov. Frank Keating. It was the first substantial legislation passed by the 2001 Legislature, which convened last week.

Great Plains Airlines was launched last year and operates two jet aircraft that provide nonstop, direct service from Tulsa International Airport to Albuquerque, N.M., Colorado Springs, Colo., Nashville, Tenn. and Oklahoma City.

Original financing was aided by a bill signed by Keating in 2000 that provides tax incentives for businesses that base their operations in Oklahoma.

The company has said it plans to serve 26 cities by the end of 2003.

Sen. Brad Henry, D-Shawnee, said industrial recruiters hear repeatedly that the lack of nonstop air travel to major cities is a key factor when companies choose to locate in other states.

Since the major airlines have chosen to operate a hub system and end nonstop flights from cities such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City, ``Great Plains is the only game in town,'' Henry said.

Some Republicans spoke against the bill, saying the state should not be subsidizing a private venture without knowing more about the company.

``What we're doing is just taking taxpayer money and giving it to somebody,'' said Sen. Grover Campbell, R-Owasso.

But Sen. Gene Stipe, D-McAlester, said Congress has given billions of dollars to major airlines who lost business after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

``If Congress is going to subsidize the big ones, what's wrong with subsidizing the ones that are trying to grow?'' Stipe asked.

The measure provides Great Plains with up to $3 million in tax credits each year for three years, beginning in 2003. It gives the airline $1 of credit for each $1 of eligible investment.

Rep. Russ Roach, D-Tulsa, was the principal author.