Lawmakers do not need to fly high in state-owned plane
A bill proposes that the state buy an airplane to provide travel for government officials.
A PROPOSAL to spend nearly $2 million for an airplane to transport state officials hither and yon
likely won't fly among taxpayers who would be paying the fare.
Legislation to fund the purchase should be grounded before takeoff. There is no real need since there are more than five interisland airlines that make seats available to officials and personnel in emergencies. And the long-term expense of maintaining and staffing an aircraft doesn't make financial sense despite claims for its usefulness.
Lawmakers would do better to put money toward a medevac air service that depends right now on the military to transport injured and sick civilians and that has become unpredictable because of deployments to Iraq and other war zones.
The image of state officials flying Hawaii's skies in a private plane is politically sensitive, as indicated by the unwillingness of anyone to take ownership of the legislation.
It was introduced by Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, but Hanabusa told the Star-Bulletin's Alexandre Da Silva that she could not remember who asked her to submit it.
Democratic Sen. J. Kalani English, who put the measure on his Transportation Committee's hearing agenda, tried to drop the onus on Linda Lingle, saying he moved the bill forward because he thought it was part of the Republican governor's legislative package.
Not so, says the Lingle administration. In fact, the state Department of Transportation isn't keen on the idea, with its spokesman saying it will probably testify against the bill.
The bill weakly argues that "a significant number of other states" own aircraft for use by government officials. Be that as it may, there is no shortage of commercial flights between islands.
The bill also contends that an airplane would be "particularly useful and economical" for "timely information" and "perhaps prompt public assistance" in emergencies. However, there are more efficient ways for officials to get information than by flying into danger zones. As for being economical, buying, fueling, maintaining and insuring an airplane isn't cheap, and having pilots on staff to fly them would add even more to the already high cost.
Moreover, there are questions about who would be allowed to use the plane, for what purposes and the priority given to eligible fliers. For example, would a legislators' meeting in Lihue trump land department enforcement officers' need to check for fishing violations off Kona? Would the governor have first dibs, followed by Cabinet members or members of the Judiciary? And who would decide?
A state-owned plane would create more problems than it's worth. It would impose another financial burden on taxpayers when there is no compelling need.