The Buzz

Missouri owns too many aircraft, auditor claims

State Auditor Tom Schweich
State Auditor Tom Schweich Associated Press

Missouri owns too many aircraft and uses them inefficiently, Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich says.

In an audit released Monday, Schweich said the state’s fleet — 14 airplanes and five helicopters — cost almost $6.6 million to operate over a two-year period.

“The state airplane fleet is larger than necessary to meet the state’s needs,” the audit says. “There is a duplication of effort between the agencies operating state-owned aircraft, and despite the low utilization of state aircraft, state agencies incurred unnecessary costs for chartered flights.”

The planes and helicopters are owned and operated by the Highway Patrol, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Conservation. Six of the aircraft are passenger planes, and three have pressurized cabins.

The audit shows Gov. Jay Nixon’s office was one of the heaviest users of state aircraft. The governor’s office was billed for 208 flights in 2012 and 2013, at a cost of more than $419,000.

But Schweich said the planes’ true costs weren’t part of the billing. Had all costs been included, he said, Nixon’s office might have owed another $127,000.

The Highway Patrol, which provides the planes for Nixon and his office, defended its billing practices.

The auditor also criticized the use of aircraft to fly state transportation and conservation commission members to meetings, a practice costing $376,000 over two years. Had those commissioners used cars to reach meetings — as other state board and commissions typically require — taxpayers might have saved nearly $300,000, the audit says.

But both departments said the practice of flying commissioners to meetings would continue.

“The monthly commission meetings are held all over the state, and generally require the better part of two days,” MoDOT told the auditor. “It would simply not be possible for many commissioners to serve on the commission and devote the time required without this transportation option.”

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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