Dear Gov. Scott,
I know you have a lot on your plate, from trying to reduce taxes on our cellphones to figuring out euphemisms for “climate change” and “global warming.” But, I’d like to remind you that you owe the state of Florida an airplane. You got rid of them in 2011. Remember?
At one time, the governor and other state officials had access to two state planes. It allowed them to travel across Florida, a fairly large state that recently became the nation’s third most populous one. Getting out of Tallahassee isn’t easy, and you didn’t help matters.
But, you made a campaign promise, and you kept it. Back in 2010, you said you’d mothball the state’s aging fleet of planes and graciously use your own. The idea was to show Floridians that you were fiscally responsible in saving taxpayers’ money.
So, you dumped our old eight-seat Cessna Citation Bravo jet and nine-seat King Air turboprop, and you graciously offered to replace them with your very own Raytheon Beechjet 400. You even pledged to pay the expenses of operating the plane out of your own pocket.
Smooth move. Your private twin-engine aircraft fits your corporate CEO image. Your jet can carry up to nine passengers in comfort and can get up to 443 knots, about 510 miles per hour, at a cruising altitude of 23,000 feet. Sweet. It has a nice cruising range, too, about 1,949 miles.
But, I digress. Ridding the state of its two planes worked, and your tea party base and other short-sighted observers who wanted the best for their new governor seemed OK with it.
It didn’t matter that the state still owed more than $3 million on the Cessna, or that the chances were somewhere between slim and none that the state would ever re-coup its investment on a King Air turboprop because it needed roughly $200,000 on engine work. Fiscal, schmiscal — it didn’t seem like a good deal, but Florida went along for the ride.
Your administration managed to make the deal work. The state Department of Management Services took a $1.9 million bid for the jet and managed to get $1.8 million for the prop plane. You then used most of the proceeds to pay off what the state still owed on the jet lease.
The move still worried former state Sen. J.D. Alexander who believed you may have violated the law in bypassing the Florida Legislature. State lawmakers had already budgeted money for the planes that year, but you sold the planes and laid off the pilots and mechanics.
No doubt you put your jet to good use, even as you left an open-government controversy in your wake. You’re don’t make your travel plans public, and you won’t disclose who travels with you. The press still grumbles about your plane and its shroud of secrecy.
Take that story the Tampa Bay Times did on you and that hush-hush trip to meet with Big Sugar lobbyists at the King Ranch in Texas. It’s not like you told anyone you were going. The papers discovered the trip by examining Texas state hunting license records.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Florida Cabinet and key agency heads who used to fly to distant parts of Florida to conduct state business are left to more inconvenient means of travel.
I remember Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s first visit to this newspaper. I asked him how was his trip from Tallahassee, a mere 6 hours and 39 minutes by car. He made a joke, something to the effect of getting more work done on the road. I don’t think he found it funny.
It’s almost too late to do something about this issue this year. The Legislature is too deep into the session to consider a new state plane out of the blue. But, next year will be an ideal time to bring the issue up. I can see the social media campaign now: #Flgetyourplanesback.
2018 may seem a long way off, but I’m sure you don’t want to leave your successor relying on Uber to conduct business outside of Tallahassee. Give Florida its plane back. We’ll need it.
A Concerned Columnist