State Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) has responded to questions from Odessa Headlines regarding the state budget provision that directs $15 million to be spent toward expanding the runway at Schlemeyer Airport at the expense of capital improvement projects for local airports across Texas.
After DPS officials issued a statement shooting down a story Landgraf told Ector County officials that the funding was sought by DPS to establish border security operations at Schlemeyer, Odessa Headlines reached out to Landgraf asking him to explain who told him that DPS was involved.
Landgraf responded by email now revealing that the head of Texas Aero, the airport Flight Base Operator (FBO) met with Landgraf during the legislative session seeking his support for the budget provision, and it was then that Landgraf was told the DPS story.
“The head of Texas Aero met with me to ask for my support in the state’s budget to give the Ector County Commissioners Court the option to secure “matching funds” (where the county would have to escrow 10% of the awarded amount) from TxDOT’s airport improvement program for the purpose of extending the main runway at Schlemeyer Field.” Landgraf wrote.
“At that time, I was told that the longer runway would be helpful to Texas DPS aircraft in their mission to help secure the border with Mexico, a responsibility that the State of Texas has undertaken as a result of the Biden administration’s policies,” Landgraf wrote, continuing on saying, “Further, I was told that a longer runway would make Schlemeyer eligible for more FAA grant funds.”
Landgraf also added in a follow-up email that the head of Texas Aero also told him that the cheaper fuel at Schlemeyer was a major factor in DPS’s consideration in basing their border security operations at Schlemeyer.
These latest statements appear to contradict what he told local officials at a joint meeting of the Ector County commissioners and airport board officials.
In an audio recording of the June 16 meeting, Landgraf is asked point-blank if “[Landgraf] met with anybody in the past over the extension of the runway?”
“No, I haven’t. And that was mainly a DPS driven part of the discussion” Landgraf responded.
Throughout the meeting, Landgraf went into detail on the DPS border security plans, describing how DPS will be obtaining larger airplanes that need the longer runway, and that while the funding was appropriated to TxDOT, this is “really DPS money.”
“So, as I was telling the judge, this is technically TxDOT money but it’s really part of a border security operation for DPS,” Landgraf told the officials. DPS officials have since said they have nothing to do with the appropriation.
Landgraf also went on to say he had already received blowback from other parts of the state who were jealous of the funding that was obtained for Ector County, and how the jealous communities were asking the Governor to line-item veto the measure.
“I’ve gotten a little bit of blowback as some of this has come to light cause some other airports think they are not getting some money because of this” Landgraf said.
“There are other communities in the state, some may be close and some may be far away that would love nothing more than to see our community not get, I mean let’s face it this is a big windfall for the county and other folks get jealous and they don’t want to see other people get that” Landgraf stated.
Local officials in other parts of Texas are upset because they are discovering that the Ector County runway funding provision redirects money from the state that would have been distributed among numerous local airports to help with capital improvement projects – using up nearly the entire fund.
Rounding off the explanation to his constituent officials regarding how the $15 million budget provision “magically appeared” in the budget, Landgraf said at the end of the day, he’s a politician.
“Another thing is at the end of the day I’m a politician and I like to do things that make my constituents happy, and I get that no one asked for this, so I am not trying to take a victory lap for it. Or anything” Landgraf said, noticeably neglecting to mention how Texas Aero ‘asked’ for his support of the provision during the session.
Ector County officials have since noted that the runway expansion would result in unfunded mandates and expenses that would further burden local taxpayers and have signaled that they are unlikely to accept the money.
During the meeting, Ector County Judge Debi Hays can be heard asking Landgraf for his contact at DPS, because the county needed to speak with DPS and obtain more details regarding their plans for the airport.
Landgraf answered saying “My interactions have been mainly with the appropriations committee members who were the ones having the conversations with DPS, I got involved just because it happened to be the district, I serve…but I will work to get a DPS contact.”
In light of the recent revelations from Landgraf regarding Texas Aero’s involvement in lobbying the legislature, Judge Hays told Odessa Headlines that since the DPS border security story appears to have originated from Texas Aero, and that since the FBO lobbied the Texas Legislature for a provision that has had such a negative effect statewide behind the backs and without the consent of the county, she is directing the county attorney to review the FBO contract and relevant laws to see what actions can be taken against Texas Aero.
Odessa Headlines has made numerous attempts to contact Texas Aero and the Austin-based lobby group “Hillco Partners” they hired to lobby the legislature for comment.
The head of Texas Aero, Billy Meyer, and Hillco Partners lobbyist Kelly Barnes, have not responded to our requests for comment.
One remaining mystery in the airport story is how the provision made its way into the state transportation budget, and what member of the legislature made it happen.
Landgraf has repeatedly maintained that he didn’t author the provision, although he now acknowledges he supported it in the legislature.
And while he previously told Odessa Headlines that House Appropriations Chairman Greg Bonnen (R-Angleton) carried the amendment at the request of DPS after being pressed to clarify which member carried it, he now says he doesn’t know who authored the provision in the budget conference committee.