Senators want governor to pay more for state airplane

Posted: Friday, March 30, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A Senate finance subcommittee wants the governor to pay more for using a state airplane so that the money can be used to hire more state troopers.

Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell, said $500,000 should be shifted from the governor's budget to the Department of Public Safety for more troopers in rural areas.

Taylor, a frequent critic of Gov. Tony Knowles, came up with the idea based upon the governor's use of an aircraft, a King Air twin-engine turboprop, that was given to the state Department of Public Safety by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The governor's office has been compensating Public Safety about $155,000 a year for fuel and pilot time, which has covered those costs, said Ken Bischoff, administrative services director for the department. Before 1999, the governor used a state-purchased King Air now used for fisheries patrols and other public safety purposes, Bischoff said.

Taylor's staff contacted the manufacturer and came up with an average lifetime maintenance cost of about $1 million annually for the King Air. With the governor using the former federal aircraft most of the time, Taylor said, Knowles should be willing to pay half of that prorated cost, starting with the next fiscal year.

Bischoff said he couldn't confirm or dispute the number, but he said it's not normal budgeting practice to treat a future major capital expense as a prorated line item in the annual operating budget.

Sen. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, chairman of the subcommittee reviewing the Public Safety Budget, has been looking for ways to add $640,000 to the proposed Public Safety budget to hire two more state troopers and two more fish and wildlife officers.

Austerman, Taylor and two other Republicans on the committee backed using $500,000 from the governors budget to back that increase.

Bob King, press secretary for Knowles, said it's a common practice to have a state aircraft on standby for a governor. It eliminates flight delays, layovers and cancellations associated with commercial service, and the vast distances in Alaska present an unusual logistical challenge, he said.

''I think the King Air actually saves the state a lot of money in the long run. It makes the governor a lot more accessible to remote parts of the state,'' King said. ''As for how the governor's office would cope with $500,000 being shifted to the Department of Public Safety, I don't have the foggiest.''

Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, supported spending more on rural law enforcement but objected to raiding the governor's budget.

The House approved $15.53 million for the governor's office.

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