Our Opinion: Governor encounters turbulence
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Gov. Jay Nixon is racking up the frequent flier miles.
We are not referring to his recent trade mission abroad, paid for by a private foundation. We are referring to his 104 domestic flights, at taxpayer expense, aboard a Highway Patrol aircraft last year.
Nixon’s flying time — measured in hours, not miles — shows his travel accounted for 173.1 hours, or 80 percent, of the total 215.9 hours of plane usage.
The governor’s flight history has been bumpy.
In this forum in the summer of 2009, we criticized Nixon for billing other state agencies for his abundant, and sometimes superfluous, air travel.
Our opinion followed an Associated Press story that reported: “While cutting more than a $1 billion from the budget, eliminating 2,500 state jobs and halving school bus aid, Nixon has racked up tens of thousands of miles on state airplanes — and billed the costs to agencies he is cutting.”
The governor flies aboard an aircraft operated by the Highway Patrol, which ignited a controversy of its own when legislators learned in January the agency had spent $5.6 million to purchase a larger, turbo-prop plane.
As a consequence, lawmakers approved a bill during the session to require the patrol to seek legislative permission to purchase vehicles costing more than $100,000.
Patrol officials, under questioning by lawmakers and reporters, contended the plane is needed for law enforcement purposes and its purchase was not prompted by the governor’s office.
Lawmakers skeptical of that explanation now may feel vindicated; records show four flights for law enforcement purposes in contrast to Nixon’s 104 flights.
Let’s be fair. Governors need to travel.
People who are victims of natural disasters expect their elected chief executive to witness their plight and outline government’s response. To his credit, we believe Nixon has reacted with both professional obligation and personal sincerity to those disasters.
And people throughout the state also want face time to hear, and question, the governor’s agenda and priorities.
But let’s also be realistic. Some of this travel — particularly some fly-around news conferences and bill signings — is a waste of fuel and taxpayers’ dollars. An hour of flying time costs an estimated $650.
The governor would encounter less turbulence if he booked his flying time based on gubernatorial necessities rather than gratuitous ceremonies.
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