TALLAHASSEE -- Rather than drive or fly commercial planes, a small group of lawmakers has billed taxpayers for the convenience of getting to Tallahassee on private planes -- some of them linked to lobbyists and companies with a stake in the decisions legislators make.
The 19 Democratic and Republican legislators took private flights totaling more than $37,000 during the recent legislative session, state records show. That represents a fraction of the state's $66.5 billion budget, but it raises questions about the relationships between lawmakers and the groups seeking their votes. And in a time of deep budget cuts, critics say it would be better to find a cheap commercial flight or simply drive -- as constituents do.
``I believe you need to do everything you can to save taxpayer dollars,'' said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who flies only commercial. ``At the same time, you should be showing taxpayers you aren't being accommodated in a special way. Any government official should do their best to take a commercial flight with no lobbyists or lobbyist clients connected to it.''
The costliest flier was Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, a successful trial attorney whose net worth exceeds $10 million. He regularly charged taxpayers for use of a private plane arranged by the Naples technology firm InfiNetwork, one of whose executives donated $250 to Grady's campaign. The bill for taxpayers: $7,800.
Contrast that with Miami Rep. James Bush III, 54, a teacher and minister who sometimes gets to Tallahassee on a Greyhound bus. The trip takes about 12 hours and costs less than $100 each way.
``My purpose is to go and help the taxpayers and get to my committee meetings,'' said Bush, a Democrat. ``That's why the people elected me as their representative. That's why it is important to do things in a reasonable manner.''
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