JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri State Highway Patrol’s purchase of a $5.6 million airplane has drawn the ire of Republican lawmakers.
The problem is that the plane – a King Air 250 from Hawker Beechcraft Corp. in Wichita, Kan. – was purchased in December without any legislative oversight, said Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican. Additionally, Silvey said he has been informed by the Highway Patrol that the second plane was only needed because Gov. Jay Nixon and other state officials are often using its first plane.
“This has left us scratching our heads,” Silvey said. “At a time when the governor has been withholding millions of dollars from the budget, how do we have enough money to buy a new plane?”
A spokesman for the Highway Patrol did not respond to a request for comment. Silvey said he has asked for a list of times when the current airplane was unavailable to the Highway Patrol because it was being used by the governor.
Office of Administration Commissioner Doug Nelson, a longtime Nixon aide, told a state Senate committee Wednesday morning that the plane was purchased using Highway Patrol fund specified for new automobiles and aircraft.
Nelson had to sign off on the plane's purchase.
"(The patrol) has a funding source, they have funds in that source, and they have an appropriations line that allows them to make purchases of vehicles and aircraft. That's what they did," Nelson told the Associated Press.
Nixon has previously caught flak from lawmakers for using the plane but then billing the cost to other state agencies. The governor has defended the practice by arguing that when his trips benefit a certain state agency or department’s programs that those agencies should pick up the tab.
A state audit last year revealed that Nixon's office billed other state agencies roughly $400,000 for trips in state-owned airplanes from 2009 to June 2011. The legislature clamped down on that practice last year while crafting the state's budget.
Silvey, who previously served as House Budget Chairman before being elected to the Senate last fall, went to see the new state plane Wednesday afternoon and sent out photos of it on his Twitter account.
“They should have come to the legislature before making that purchase,” Silvey said. “No department should be buying a $6 million anything without legislative approval.”