Senate president defends plane use


Published: Saturday, January 5, 2008 at 2:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 5, 2008 at 2:27 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - As the Legislature cut $1 billion from Florida's budget last year, one lawmaker wanted the state to sell one of its three airplanes to save $200,000 annually.

Republican Sen. J.D. Alexander, of Lake Wales, contended the plane, used by the governor, Cabinet and legislators, shouldn't take priority over education and other vital services.

It wouldn't happen.

Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, told him "it was a big state, and people in Miami needed a way to get to Tallahassee," Alexander recalled.

But lawmakers from Miami hardly used state planes last year.

Pruitt, however, flew on the planes more than any other lawmaker in 2007, with two dozen round trips between Fort Pierce and Tallahassee at a cost of nearly $24,000.

Most of the flights also made stops in Melbourne, Orlando and Sarasota to pick up Pruitt's leadership team.

Only Gov. Charlie Crist, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson flew more than Pruitt.

The 40-member Senate logged 84,989 miles on the planes last year, at a cost of more than $143,000, state records show. The 120-member House flew just 14,344 miles at a cost of about $19,000.

Together, the state's three planes racked up just over $1 million in costs last year, compared with $861,409 in 2006, records show.

"Florida is a huge state," Pruitt spokeswoman Kathy Mears told The Orlando Sentinel.

Senate budget chief Lisa Carlton said the plane was needed because without it, "other state agencies would have had increased travel costs." State employees are also allowed to fly on the planes, if there is room.

"I don't agree with it," Alexander said, adding that he would continue to try to cut one plane from all future budgets.

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