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article imageMissouri governor cuts state employee travels

By Lynn Herrmann     Jul 2, 2010 in Politics
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has ordered less job-related travel time for state employees and reduced their per-mile payments, moves that come while his own travel time has actually increased.
Governor Jay Nixon (D-Mo), in his efforts to shrink government spending, has increased his airplane travel after announcing travel reductions for state employees, part of his plan at cutting more than $1 billion from the state budget.
The budget cuts also include elimination of 2,500 state jobs and reducing school busing aid by half, all while increasing his travel on state airplanes by tens of thousands of miles and billing his travel costs to the very agency budgets he is cutting, the Associated Press reports.
An analysis of state flight records, obtained under the state Sunshine Law, shows the governor flew on state aircraft an average of once every three days over the last year. Additionally, the governor continues the practice, as reported by the AP one year ago, of billing those reduced agency budgets instead of his own office, a move that allows him to spend more tax dollars on the governor’s office staff and related expenses.
Nixon defends his frequent flier miles as being essential to the job he was elected to do.
"I think a governor needs to be in all corners of the state to listen to the concerns of people," Nixon said in the AP report. He added: "Some of the places a governor should be are very, very important and they require modern modes of travel."
Nixon’s increased travel expenses come at a time when other state governors have actually reduced their tax-dollar dependent travel.
Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter cut his state air travel by one-third as the recession began taking hold. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist decreased air travel on state planes by almost half from 2007 to 2009, due in part to increased budget pressures as well as the beginning of his US Senate campaign.
Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas actually let foreign governments pay for some of his travel. a move that included a six-day visit to France last year in which Vermont was billed only for his phone calls and hotel rooms and two trips to Quebec, Canada.
Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a government watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., stated: "This is like saying to your neighbor, `By the way, I'm going to borrow your car, do some things that I think will be good for the community, and you have to pay for it,'" Schatz said in the report.
He added: "It is something that he simply shouldn't be doing if he really is living by the words he seems to be expressing in terms of fiscal responsibility."
Nixon announced a blueprint for “right-sizing and refocusing state government” in March. He flew to a meeting of business leaders in Springfield to make that announcement. A month later, in announcing a progress report, he flew to Kansas City. The progress report included the announcement that state employees had been ordered to cut their travel by 10 percent during the next fiscal year.
The same progress report was repeated the next day when he flew to Columbia and St. Louis. Those air travel costs were split among numerous state agencies.
During May, Nixon flew more frequently than before, averaging flights every other day. Those travel costs for the month were nearly $25,000, also billed to various agencies.
During a June news conference announcing yet more budget cuts, Nixon defended his increased air travel by noting some of it was used to visit families of deceased soldiers.
"I need to show the respect of the state in many of those ceremonial things, whether it's a graduation ceremony or a welcome home ceremony or honoring someone who's passed," Nixon said. "Those are obligations I think a chief executive of the state needs to engage in."
Still, a comparison of flight records with the governor’s daily schedule and news releases show many of his flights were used for grant announcements, ceremonial bill signings or to promote policy proposals.
On all non-law enforcement flights between June 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010, Nixon was a passenger more than 70 percent of the time.
The twin-engine, turbo-prop planes are maintained by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Department of Conservation. The flights typically cost over $800 per hour to operate.
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