House passes airline tax credit bill

Thursday, February 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The Oklahoma House agreed Wednesday to provide $9 million in income tax credits to a Tulsa-based airline that plans to obtain four new aircraft and expand service to six new cities.

Great Plains Airlines was launched last year and operates two jet aircraft that provide non-stop, 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 Gov. Frank Keating in 2000 that provides tax incentives for businesses that base their operations in Oklahoma.

Opponents said they will not support additional incentives until the fledgling airline fulfills its original goal of providing service to financial centers on the East and West coasts from Oklahoma.

``I don't want to spend a dollar to fly'' to the airline's destinations, Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, said.

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

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

The bill's author, Rep. Russ Roach, D-Tulsa, said the company was on the verge of securing financing to acquire the additional aircraft when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred in New York City and Washington, D.C.

``Everything in the airline industry changed,'' Roach said. ``All of the airlines are struggling.''

Rep. Leonard Sullivan, R-Oklahoma City, said he supported the measure ``even though they're going to haul skiers and yodelers,'' a reference to the airline's stops in Colorado Springs and Nashville.

``They do bypass the major hubs. That is a start in the right direction for economic development in the state of Oklahoma,'' said Floor Leader Danny Hilliard, D-Sulphur.

But Rep. John Wright, R-Broken Arrow, said businessmen want direct flights to New York, Washington and Los Angeles, destinations that are too far from Oklahoma for Great Plains' regional jets.

Calvey accused the airline of a ``bait and switch'' scheme in which it promised service to the coasts but scaled back plans once state tax credits were approved.

``This is not good fiscal policy. It's just the wrong thing to do,'' said Rep. Richard Phillips, R-Warr Acres.

The House approved the measure, House Bill 2315, 74-22, and sent it to the Senate.