Kansas politicians use taxpayer money for private use of plane while state is in economic free fall
Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, launched an “experiment” when he was elected in 2010 that has bankrupted the state’s economy. Applying the principles of Reaganomics or “trickle-down economics,” Brownback cut income taxes to historic lows, effectively slashing revenue to fund critical state services like schools and infrastructure. The result has been disastrous with a $1.1 billion budget hole.
While Kansas families were struggling, schools were failing and the state was kicking people off food stamps, politicians were using taxpayer money for personal travel and to fly to see University of Kansas basketball games. According to the Associated Press, the state-owned executive aircraft, a Raytheon King Air 350, has been used by Brownback as well as Republican state senators, House members and agency heads.
The AP acquired the daily flight logs, emails, and schedules dating back to January 1, 2015. They found a trip for the entire Brownback family to Memphis to the Liberty Bowl game between Kansas State University and Arkansas. It cost taxpayers $1,251.
Brownback flew on another sports trip to watch the University of Kansas and Wichita State University compete in the NACC tournament in March of that year. He brought some friends and family as well as Senate President Susan Wagle and State Rep. Gene Sullentrop and their spouses. When cameras zoomed in on Brownback during the game, he got booed. It cost taxpayers $465 to fly the plane.
“Kansas Governors have long attended sporting events of Kansas teams as part of their official duties and have used the state aircraft for travel to those events,” Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley told the AP in an email. “There is no additional expense incurred by the State when other Kansans are on the plane for an official trip with the Governor.”
Hawley said that Brownback hasn’t taken any reimbursable trips, however.
The problem is that Kansas has a statute that allows for the governor to use the plane for private purposes so long as he reimburses the state for the cost of a plane ticket. The same is true for federal officials. Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized President Barack Obama for using Air Force One to travel to a campaign event for Hillary Clinton. All presidents, however, are required to fly on Air Force One for security purposes and they reimburse the federal government out of campaign funds when the plane is used for political purposes.
There are no specific guidelines in the statute that outlines who can be taken on the private plane or where the plane goes.
Brownback has flown 17,348 miles in the last 15 months, according to the logs. Most of his trips are ribbon-cuttings, community meetings or tours. But he also uses the plan to meet with religious groups across the state while traveling on government business.
Transportation Secretary Mike King has traveled 6,247 miles to events around the state. Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey too racked up 5,460 miles traveling with staff to attend water meetings. Her office claimed she saved money flying the state’s plane because it meant she didn’t have to stay overnight.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach has flown 4,350 miles to promote his political crusade to pass voter ID laws in other states. He’s also used the state-fueled jet to fund his travel to Republican Party events across the state. Because his office is funded by fees paid by business regulations, his representatives claims he’s not using taxpayer money.