U.P. reps want to use state-owned aircraft to fly back-and-forth

One of four aircraft owned by the Michigan Department of Transportation that state representatives want to use to fly to their districts is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the Lansing State Journal)

LANSING — State Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, co-sponsored a bill earlier this month that would permit Upper Peninsula legislators to request a state aircraft to be used to fly to and from Lansing and a “centrally located” U.P. airport.

The bill would also let state departments allow legislators to travel on already-scheduled flights.

The bill, HB Number 5301, would establish requirements for the use of state-owned aircraft by a member of the state legislature and legislative staff.

According to the wording of the bill, a member of the state legislature, and legislative staff, may only use state-owned aircraft for transportation in one of the following situations, and only if the member receives prior approval of the use from the Senate majority leader or the speaker of the House of Representatives:

(a) At the time the member requests approval of the use of the state-owned aircraft for transportation, a state agency has already scheduled the use of the state-owned aircraft for official state business that is related to the member’s request.

(b) The member represents a district located wholly in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and the transportation requested is between Lansing and a centrally located airport in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

According to a Sept. 1, 2018, Michigan Capitol Confidential report, the Michigan Department of Transportation has spent over $5.6 million on five aircraft over the past three years, a Freedom of Information Act request found. The aircraft were used in 2015-16 to transport officials and staff from the state Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Health & Human Services, the Office of the Governor, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, the Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan State Police, as well as at least one state university.

The Michigan Department of Transportation owns five aircraft, which state government agencies regularly use, particularly the Michigan State University Athletics Department, according to a Sept. 3, 2018, Michigan Capitol Confidential report.

“Michigan State University athletics officials took 16 trips using Michigan Department of Transportation aircraft in the 2016-17 fiscal year. MSU has been using the aircraft since 2008, according to flight records made public,” stated writer Derek Draplin in the report. “While the practice is legal, it’s notable, since MSU appears to be the only state university to frequently use MDOT aircraft.”

The spending includes direct operating costs, insurance, and salary and retirement expenses. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which publishes Michigan Capitol Confidential, filed the FOIA request in June, stated Michigan Capitol Confidential.

Total spending for the aircraft in 2015 was $1.64 million. That year, $571,315 was spent on salaries and wages; $60,351 on overtime; $97,564.00 on insurance; $362,443 on retirement benefits; $234,343 on contracted services, supplies, and materials; and $278,326 on fuel, among other expenditures.

The report goes on to state that in 2017, total spending on the aircraft rose to $2.4 million because of an engine replacement. That year, $471,376 was spent on salaries and wages; $48,480 on overtime; $72,667 on insurance; $282,650 on retirement; $1,336,547 on contracted services, supplies, and materials; and $175,488 on fuel.

Ballotpedia.org state’s on Beau LaFave’s information page that the 108th District Representative is pledged to reducing government, taking a quote from his 2016 campaign website: “LaFave believes that a good government is a small government. He is tired of excessive taxes, red tape, and regulations that hinder the growth of our area. These only discourage new companies and individuals from moving to the UP. That’s why he has pledged to cut taxes and eliminate regulations from his first day in office.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential, however, stated that State Representative Shane Hernandez, R – Port Huron, said that money used for the aircraft expenses could be better used for taxpayers.

Hernandez, who sits on the appropriations committee, is quoted as saying that the state-owned aircraft are examples of taxpayer waste.

“This is a perfect example where these government entities could create efficiencies on the administrative side that go to programs that affect taxpayers, like airport improvement programs, pavement and fixing potholes, things like that.” Hernandez is quoted as saying.

In addition to LaFave, HB 5301 sponsors included U.P. Representatives Greg Markkanen, and Sara Cambensy. The bill was not listed on LaFave’s website among other legislation he has acted on.

The bill was referred to the House Transportation Committee on Dec. 11.