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GOP Criticizes MoDOT Frequent Flyers

April 22, 1999
By: David Grebe
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - It's time to put a stop to jetsetting state officials, some Republicans said Thursday.

Republican leaders attacked state officials' for excessive use of jet aircraft - and are demanding the Transportation Department relinquish some planes.

Some critics refer to the state's 28-plane aircraft fleet as the "Missouri Air Force."

"There's been considerable inappropriate use of state aircraft," said House Republican Whip Charlie Shields. Shields cited 183 instances from January 1998 - March 1999 when state planes were used to transport MoDOT (Missouri Department of Transportation) personnel.

On 14 occasions, Shields says, MoDOT's Chief Engineer took state aircraft to connect with a commercial flight.

"We're asking that MoDOT sell two of its twin-engine jet aircraft," Shields said. MoDOT actually says it does not have any jet aircraft. Instead, it reports owning a total of 3 prop aircraft.

"MoDOT will review its flight policies," said spokesman Steve Forsythe. Forsythe said the Department only used planes for official business.

Forsythe noted that highway commissioners were unpaid. "They have a tremendous responsibility in overseeing a $1.5 billion dollar budget," he added.

Shields said GOP leaders were focusing on MoDOT plane use because of the department's budget problem.

"MoDOT is the one department in revenue trouble," Shields said. He noted that lawmakers don't have control over MoDOT's budget - they're funded from "earmarked" gasoline taxes that must be spent by MoDOT.

Shields said Republicans wanted to consolidate the fleet into one agency - where lawmakers could maintain oversight. "OA (Office of Administration) is one department we can get in and take a hard look at the budget," Shields said.

MoDOT said earlier this year they'd need an additional $1 billion annually to complete the state's 15-year highway plan - an announcement that caused consternation among some lawmakers.

Missouri voters had approved a gas tax increase to finance the plan - but MoDOT now says they're far short of cash.