- Associated Press - Monday, January 26, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri spent $376,000 to fly commissioners to meetings across the state when hundreds of thousands of dollars could have been saved if they drove instead, according to a state audit released Monday.

Auditor Tom Schweich’s report noted the state paid too much for flights between 2012 and 2013, including the $376,000 spent on getting transportation and conservation commissioners to meetings.

The departments defended use of the planes in the audit report itself and said flights are necessary to transport members to meetings and other events.

Department of Transportation chief financial officer Roberta Broeker said commissioners live hours away from some meetings.

“You’re going to have to do something to make it just a little bit easier for them” to travel across the state to various locations, Broeker said.

The audit noted the transportation department plans to continue flying commissioners on state planes.

But Schweich said transportation and conservation were the only two departments that regularly flew commissioners. He recommended reimbursing them for mileage as a cheaper option.

“I drive everywhere,” Schweich said. “Other people can drive, too.”

Spouses, family members and former commissioners flew with commissioners on the planes, despite a state policy against that, the audit found. And although Schweich said departments are spending too much on chartered plane trips, overall use of the passenger fleet is low.

The state’s six passenger planes on average were used to full capacity only about 10 percent of the time between 2012 and 2013, according to the audit, and used about a third of the business days they were available.

Schweich said the fleet is needlessly large and suggested cutting down the number of planes to increase efficiency.

The audit follows the 2013 purchase of a $5.6 million passenger plane for state use. Lawmakers criticized Col. Ron Replogle of the Missouri Highway Patrol for its purchase. Replogle said it was necessary because of demand for use from state officials.

The governor’s office was the biggest user of the Highway Patrol-operated plane between 2012 and 2013, making up 208 of the 287 flights, according to the audit.

Gov. Jay Nixon said he plans to continue flying state planes and said they’re helpful “to make sure you can get to the areas of the state that you govern.”

The audit also called for the Highway Patrol and transportation and conservation departments to better coordinate and share flights.

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Follow Summer Ballentine at https://twitter.com/esballentine .


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