FRANKFORT, KY -- Gov. Steve Beshear took three planeloads of officials with him to Pike County on Thursday at a cost of more than $7,000 for the first stop in his six-week statewide tour of town-hall meetings, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader in its Saturday edition.
That came just days after Beshear suggested ways state workers could conserve on fuel when commuting.
The trip's cost immediately drew criticism from political opponents who pointed to the state's budget crunch that Beshear and lawmakers have bemoaned all year. The administration defended the flights, saying they saved officials' time, reports the Herald-Leader.
Beshear, joined by all but two of his Cabinet secretaries, presided over the meeting in the Eastern Kentucky town of Virgie to talk with constituents about issues and goals.
Three planes departed Frankfort's Capitol Airport between 4:09 p.m. and 4:44 p.m. Thursday bound for Pike County-Hatcher Field, according to data on the airplane tracking Web site FlightAware.com., reports the newspaper.
The governor and several aides traveled in Kentucky State Police's 11-seat Beechcraft King Air. More than a dozen others were split between another 11-seat King Air chartered from Air Lexington and an eight-seat Piper Navajo owned by the state's Transportation Cabinet.
The State Police King Air cost $1,320 for the 1.1 flight-hour round trip, said Lt. Phil Crumpton, state police spokesman. The agency just increased its rate July 10 from $925 per flight hour to $1,200 to keep pace with rising fuel costs, the newspaper reports.
Flying the state's Piper Navajo cost $1,294, while the bill for chartering the second King Air was $4,474, according to the governor's office.
That amounted to $7,088 for the three flights, not counting the cost of aides and state police shuttling the governor and Cabinet members to and from the airports and several other carloads of aides who drove three hours each way.
A 350-mile round trip between Frankfort and Virgie in a sport utility vehicle would cost about $100 worth of gasoline, reports the newspaper.
But Beshear's administration argued that flying to Pikeville ”saved 100 hours of work time, if not more“ for the governor and the 15 other officials who flew, reports the Lexington Herald-Leader.
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