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Our Opinion: Time to ground excessive state flights

News Tribune editorial January 28, 2015 at 12:00 p.m. | Updated January 28, 2015 at 12:00 p.m.

When verbal barbs are flying, keeping your head down is advisable.

A state audit released Monday criticizes excessive use of state airplanes by three state agencies, which all have been a topic of some recent controversy.

The agencies are the Missouri Highway Patrol, supervised by Gov. Jay Nixon, and two departments, Transportation and Conservation, both constitutionally independent with their own appointed commissions and revenue sources.

Criticism of the governor's use of the patrol's plane - both flight frequency and the practice of billing other agencies - has been well-documented during his tenure. And lawmakers now are reviewing the patrol's training procedures following the merger of highway and water patrol operations.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) announced two weeks ago that inadequate funding will force it scale back full maintenance to about one-fourth of the state's highways by 2017,

And some lawmakers are pushing constitutional amendments to eliminate Conservation's dedicated sales tax and double the number of commission members.

As much as these agencies might want to avoid more glare from the public spotlight, the audit findings illuminated $6.6 million was spent by them on flight operations during the two years that ended Dec. 31, 2013.

Included in that total was $376,000 to fly their commissioners to meetings across the state. Auditors noted most other state agencies and employees drive rather than fly.

The patrol also was faulted in the audit for underbilling for use of its planes.

Deputy Auditor Harry Otto said the state has "more planes than are needed or can be justified, and some usage is questionable - with respect to MoDOT and Conservation - because they are different from almost all other boards and commissions; they fly their people in and out of meetings."

Taxpayers justifiably are rankled when they perceive elite treatment in state government. They ask themselves: why they are driving on unmaintained roads while MoDOT officials fly?; or whether Conservation is collecting too much money if it can afford to fly commissioners around the state?

When state government asks Missourians to tighten their belts on state services, it must be sure its own house is in order.

The audit reveals the state's hangar is in disarray and its flights are excessive.

It's time to streamline and ground some operations.


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