Nikki Haley: SC might be better off selling its planes

Statement made after she reimburses state

10/09/2012 12:00 AM

10/08/2012 10:48 PM

Gov. Nikki Haley questioned Monday why the state of South Carolina should keep planes after she had to shell out $9,590 to reimburse the state for newly banned uses of state-owned aircraft.

Haley’s opponent in the 2010 governor’s race agreed with the first-term Republican governor - sell the planes if it means ending the controversies about their use that have occurred in recent years. “We keep having these flares-ups,” said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw.

The state’s two planes could fetch up to $3.2 million if sold, based on prices on online sales sites for aircraft.

Haley reimbursed the state after the Associated Press raised questions about her using the planes to tour the state for bill signings and news conferences on ethics and tax reforms – uses banned in a budget clause that Sheheen helped craft last year.

The governor’s office said it was not aware of the clause before being alerted by a reporter. But Haley thinks the trips were part of her doing business as governor.

“Now I am in decision mode of: Do we need a plane?” Haley said during a news conference Monday, after the latest plane dustup story broke.

Haley did not offer details about what she would do with the state’s two planes – except that her opponents would not stop her efforts to promote reforms around the state.

Sheheen said he wanted the new limits after Haley’s predecessor, two-term GOP Gov. Mark Sanford, agreed to pay the largest ethics fine in state history – $74,000 – for his personal use of state planes, among other things.

“They (the planes) are not for helping win attention to personal political agendas and getting in front of cameras,” said Sheheen, widely expected to run again against Haley in 2014. “They are for truly administrative government functions,” such as meetings with economic-development clients.

In recent months, the state’s planes have been used by lawmakers, Commerce Department officials, state Treasurer Curtis Loftis, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney and Clemson president James Barker, according to state flight records.

It cost $258,000 to operate the state’s two twin-engines planes last year, counting the costs for pilots, maintenance, insurance and fuel, said Paul Werts, executive director of the S.C. Aeronautics Commission. The state planes are a 1990 nine-passenger King Air 350 and a 1983 six-passenger King Air C90.

The planes cost $140 per seat to charter, Werts said, cheaper than charter options. (A six-passenger twin-engine Cessna Conquest I costs $250 a seat to charter from Eagle Aviation at Columbia Metropolitan Airport.)

While private charters might cost more, Sheheen predicted use would drop if the state’s planes were sold, saving taxpayers money.

The state Aeronautics Commission would have to approve any sale of the planes after a review by the Joint Bond Review Board, S.C. Budget and Control Board spokeswoman Lindsey Kremlick said Monday.

House Ways and Means chairman Brian White, an Anderson Republican who is a pilot, said he does not see a need to sell the planes.

“The state has become an advocate for the airline industry,” he said, referring to Boeing’s North Charleston plant that opened last year. “They’re tools that need to be used.”

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