By Matthew Remynse, A.A.E., President, Airport Association of North Dakota
Earlier this year at the Upper Midwest Aviation Symposium (recently renamed the FLY-ND Conference) the Airport Association of North Dakota’s (AAND) members and officers discussed and set forth the 2021 legislative agenda. Additionally, the members authorized the AAND board to negotiate and enter into an agreement with Odney Inc. to assist the AAND with its legislative efforts.
The 2021 AAND legislative agenda includes the following:
Supporting the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission (NDAC) and their funding request
Introducing legislation that would allow commercial service airports to enter into contracts with Transportation Network Companies (TNC), such as Uber and Lyft
Supporting legislation that causes airport authorities to be eligible for infrastructure loan programs
Monitoring any new legislation related to Operation Prairie Dog, which was approved in the 2019 Session
As with past sessions, supporting the NDAC will be a top priority for AAND. During the 2021 session, we’ll be backing the NDAC’s budget request and their appeal to receive carry-over spending authority for funds that were received during the 2019 session, but will not be granted until after July 2021.
Another focus will be introducing legislation to allow commercial service airports the ability to enter into contracts with TNC. In the 2019 session, the AAND was unsuccessful in moving this bill forward, which is not surprising as it normally takes two or more sessions to get a bill through. With lessons learned, the AAND is going to try again in the 2021 session. The importance of this bill is that as TNC operations continue to grow in the state, our airports will start seeing less use of the paid parking lots, taxi services, and rental cars, which ultimately leads to less revenue for airports. As a way to re-collect some of the revenue and meet federal grant assurances, the AAND will introduce legislation to change North Dakota Century Code so commercial airports are able to enter into contracts with the TNC.
Another focus will be supporting legislation that will allow airports to be eligible for a state operated infrastructure loan program. In the 2015 and 2017 sessions, the AAND provided testimony on legislation that would have allowed airports to be eligible to request low-interest loans through the Bank of North Dakota. However, the bill was modified to remove airports, as the focus at the time was on other types of infrastructure. During the 2019 session, the AAND did not pursue any loan program legislation as Operation Prairie Dog provided a lot of promise. Even with the potential funds provided by Operation Prairie Dog, the AAND feels there is a need to ensure airports are eligible for a loan program. At this time, there are several ideas for a loan program legislators are discussing. Once a direction is known, the AAND and Odney will work to assure airports are deemed eligible to participate in the program.
A top focus for the AAND will be monitoring any potential changes to Operation Prairie Dog legislation. In the 2019 session, Operation Prairie Dog approved $20 million for airport infrastructure grants that were to be distributed through the NDAC’s grant program. The $20 million came from the oil and gas extraction tax formula that filled a set of funds or buckets. Unfortunately, the economic downturn has not allowed the buckets to fill as fast as hoped and the airport bucket has yet to start filling. Our vision is to not see any modifications to the formula and allow it to work before making any modifications in future sessions.
To continue our efforts to interact with legislators, the AAND plans to host a legislative social and hopes to assist with the development of Aviation Day at the Capital. These are two great events that provide AAND members and the aviation community the ability to interact and promote our industry with legislators and executive branch members. However, with COVID-19 precautions in place, we are not quite sure how the logistics will play out for hosting these events. Just as in past years, the AAND expects that one or two bills affecting airports or aviation will require our testimony.
Through the hard of work of many, the AAND has been very successful in past sessions. This session should be no different, as the organization is well set up with seasoned lobbyists from Odney by our side and an established rapport with legislators. Most importantly, we have members that are ready and willing to participate if called upon. By this I mean, contacting legislators or testifying if possible. When we unify, our voice is stronger!
The AAND is looking toward another busy and successful legislative session. As we near the beginning of the session, there will be updates coming from the AAND board via email, as well as conference calls once the session begins. So, be on the lookout for those invites and communications. Lastly, the AAND would like to extend a thank you to all those that have reached out to their legislators or have given time to come to Bismarck to testify in the past. Without these efforts, we would not be as successful. So, let’s look forward to a new year and as always, remember to check the NOTAMs!