PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Two proposals to help pay for South Dakota airport projects will test whether the Legislature is willing to tap state government’s general fund for a new purpose.
The Senate Transportation Commission on Wednesday endorsed both measures and sent them to the 18-member Joint Committee on Appropriations that oversees state government’s budget.
SB-148 calls for $15 million for an airline infrastructure terminal project at Rapid City Regional Airport. An appropriator, Republican Sen. David Johnson, is its prime sponsor.
SB-158 would provide $20 million to the state Department of Transportation for matching federal aid to projects at South Dakota’s 55 public airports. Its prime sponsor is an appropriator, too, Republican Sen. Jack Kolbeck.
Neither bill, however, was among the budget recommendations that Governor Kristi Noem laid out to legislators in December.
The governor made her position on the two bills publicly known Wednesday, when her state Bureau of Finance and Management sent an analyst to testify against them. Blaire Tritle was the only opponent. She said state government doesn’t provide aid to airports from its general fund and doing so now would set a precedent.
“It is a shift in how the state funds, or does not fund, airports,” Tritle said.
Currently, the state Aeronautics Commission decides whether to fund airport projects. It raises funds through aircraft fuel taxes and annual registration fees on aircraft. The commission in turn provides small amounts of matching funds — typically 0 to 5% — for federal project grants and also releases funds back for local improvements.
The Rapid City project calls for expanding space for screening and handling baggage. Republican Sen. Jessica Castleberry called for the committee to forward the request to appropriations. She described herself as a frequent user of the airport and said its baggage handling was “a very antiquated system and a very delicate system” that at times slows to a crawl.
Sen. Johnson acknowledged the $15 million request was “far beyond” the traditional funding by state government but said aviation was just as critical as the highway system “at a fraction of the cost.”
The committee chair, Republican Sen. Joshua Klumb, said the hard part for both bills would be getting through the appropriations panel but each one has an appropriator as prime sponsor.
“I think you have an uphill climb, but we’ll let you tackle it,” Klumb said.