Monday, June 03, 2013

Report: Michigan Gov. Snyder uses state planes less than predecessor


10:52 AM, June 3, 2013 

By Kristen M. Daum

Lansing State Journal

When Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder traveled to Washington, D.C. on a day-trip two weeks ago, one of the state’s passenger planes picked him up and dropped him off in Ypsilanti en route from the plane’s hub in Lansing.

The plane made a similar side trip to Ann Arbor a couple of weeks prior to that while en route to Menominee, when Snyder attended a groundbreaking ceremony for a business there in the Upper Peninsula.

Because Snyder lives in Ann Arbor, his office says it is sometimes cheaper for the state plane to pick him up and/or drop him off — rather than for his State Police security detail to drive him more than an hour to Lansing’s Capital Region International Airport, where most of the state passenger planes are based.

“It is definitely more cost-effective,” Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said.

However, after repeated requests from the State Journal, Wurfel was either unable or unwilling to provide a cost breakdown showing how it was a cheaper alternative.

The state plane Snyder takes — a Beechcraft King Air — costs about $1,200 an hour for MDOT to operate, and either the State Police or the governor’s office will bear that cost. Recent flight-tracking data shows flights between Lansing and the Ann Arbor area take between 10 and 20 minutes for a one-way trip.

However, Snyder, a Republican, uses the state planes far less frequently than his predecessor, Democrat Jennifer Granholm.

In the last 33 months of her term, she used the planes at least 55 times, according to the State Journal’s analysis.

Through March, or his first 27 months in office since January 2011, Snyder had used the state planes at least 15 times, a State Journal analysis of state transportation data showed.

Of those trips, six involved stops in either Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor on one or both legs of a round-trip. That doesn’t include the two trips the State Journal identified from Snyder’s May travel itinerary.

“With the mileage and the time, the extra detail costs — it comes down to what is basically going to be the most cost-effective policy that gels with his schedule,” Wurfel said.

Between October and March, there was a 41 percent increase in the number of passengers on state-owned planes compared to the same period a year ago, changes driven by an independent report to the legislature last spring that said MDOT needed to make better use of the state’s four passenger aircraft.

The state planes are an option for all state employees and employees of Michigan’s 15 four-year universities.

Snyder opts to use them when commercial flights are more expensive and less convenient, Wurfel said.

He’ll use commercial flights, though, for international trips and for events that can be arranged in advance, such as annual governors’ association events, she said.

During her later years in office, Granholm brought her family on many trips —something Snyder hasn’t done, the State Journal analysis found.

Through March, Michigan first lady Sue Snyder has used the state plane once for a trip in February to Mackinac Island. It doesn’t appear that Snyder’s children have ever ridden the plane.

By comparison, Granholm’s husband, Daniel Mulhern, rode the plane seven times with Granholm. Her three children rode with her a combined 12 times, with several trips overlapping.

Officials with the Michigan Department of Transportation said the state does not have a universal policy regarding invited guests and family members riding on the state planes. It’s up to each department.

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