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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Nixon spends $5.6 million on plane without general assembly's knowledge

Legislators have delayed Doug Nelson's appointment in response to the purchase.

Jan. 29, 2013

Some senators, both democratic and republican, are in shock this week after learning the Missouri State Highway Patrol recently purchased a $5.6 million plane for Gov. Jay Nixon and other state officials, according to the Associated Press.

State Sen. Brian Muzlinger, R-District 18 said that many senators were frustrated they were not aware of the plane's purchase ahead of time and feel it was a choice they would not have approved, if given the chance. 

“It was a very well kept secret,” Munzlinger said.

Senators raised their concerns at a budget hearing, and then again at a confirmation hearing to appoint Doug Nelson to State Commissioner of Administration. 

Nixon had appointed Nelson to be the Office of Administration’s full-time head, but as of Thursday, the general assembly has delayed his appointment. Nelson had approved of the plane's purchase, telling the AP it was not his place to overstep the highway patrol. 

The plane, a King Air 250, can carry seven passengers plus two crew members, according to the AP. The aircraft is very similar to the King Air 90C plane the highway patrol already owns and is intending on keeping.

State Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-District 17, said the first plane is often used for transporting public officials. The highway patrol felt another plane would allow one to be used for public officials and one for the patrol. 

Both Silvey and Munzlinger said they think the money could have been used elsewhere.

“I see no need for it at all, the current plane they have is not old,” Munzlinger said.

The highway patrol is in need of $3.4 million in order to even out pay grades between the highway and water patrol.

Munzlinger said that he “supports the highway patrol” and feels Nixon “should think of his troopers first.”

Money for the plane was taken from a specific account designated for automobiles and aircraft. Munzlinger said the senate would have probably allowed money to be moved from this account and would have used it instead to pay the state troopers.

The Senate could have swept money from its current fund to meet these pay requests, as well as used the money for patrol car repairs and other requests the highway patrol has, Silvey said.

According to the AP, a state audit reported Nixon spent $550,000 on trips in state-owned planes from 2009 to June of 2011. In 2012, lawmakers placed budget restrictions on the governor’s ability to bill state departments for travel expenses.

“If the governor wants to fly out of the state of Missouri, he should be flying like everyone else — on an airline," Munzlinger said.   Nixon’s press secretary Scott Holste declined to comment.

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