- Associated Press - Sunday, August 14, 2011

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo used state aircraft for more than a dozen flights to or from his home following statewide tours in which he called for belt-tightening and budget cuts for schools and other services, records show.

Mr. Cuomo used state aircraft far less than his predecessors and there is no record of any politicking or fundraising in the trips, according to records obtained by the Associated Press under the state Freedom of Information Law.

The records show Mr. Cuomo used a state plane or helicopter to return to suburban Westchester County at the end of statewide tours more than a dozen times from when he took office in January through June, the end of his first legislative session.

The state aircraft were then flown from Westchester, where Mr. Cuomo lives with his girlfriend and Food Network star Sandra Lee, to the capital of Albany to return the aircraft to their hangar as required.

The governor uses the aircraft only for “official events” and that includes Mr. Cuomo’s trips to his suburban Westchester home, which the Democrat lists as his official address, Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said Saturday. Ms. Lee owns the home, and Mr. Cuomo’s daughters live there much of the time. For travel purposes, however, the executive mansion in Albany is considered a governor’s home.

State ethics officials have made it clear in past advisory opinions that state aircraft should not be used essentially for commuting.

On March 22, records show Mr. Cuomo, the only passenger besides state police, took the helicopter at 4:30 p.m. to fly from Albany to Westchester. The governor’s public schedule listed only a news conference in Albany that day and no public events in Westchester, a two-hour drive from Albany.

The next morning, the records show he flew from Westchester at 9:30 a.m. to Syracuse, then flew at 12:30 p.m. back to Westchester. His March 23 schedule listed the event in Syracuse, part his statewide budget tour where he called for a state budget that “that reins in spending, cuts waste and creates efficiencies.”

The Cuomo administration said the travel to or from Westchester avoids a prohibition against using state aircraft to commute to work, because the trips — except for March 22 — weren’t to or from Albany. Vlasto declined to comment on the March 22 trip.

“The governor uses the plane in furtherance of state business,” Mr. Vlasto said. “Every trip is approved by the counsel’s office and the secretary to the governor and to the extent Governor Cuomo’s use of the plane is noteworthy, it’s for its limited use and anyone familiar with the relevant law or practice would know that. It’s outrageous that due to an apparent lack of news, The Associated Press has now decided to fabricate stories.”

Mr. Vlasto refused to discuss the trips back to Westchester, saying there is no “private gain” in the flights to and from his home. “Private gain” is prohibited under the state’s ethics advisory on use of state aircraft. Defining whether Mr. Cuomo’s use of aircraft was a private gain would be up to the Commission on Public Integrity.

The administration blacked out points of departure and destination in the records obtained by the AP, citing a provision of law that allows blocking data that “could endanger the life or safety of any person.” The administration also blocked out the passengers, other than Mr. Cuomo and his staff and two trips by lawmakers. The administration later relented and provided another document that showed the passengers were state police.

Mr. Vlasto provided the points of departure and destination only through an interview. The administration also didn’t provide the purpose of the trips as requested in the Freedom of Information Law request.

Like his predecessors, Mr. Cuomo spends most Thursdays and Fridays in the New York City office. From Westchester, he appears to have been driven by state police in the state’s sport utility vehicles, avoiding a longer drive or another flight from Albany to Manhattan.

The AP’s records request also sought the cost of the flights, but the administration did not provide that information.

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