State taxpayers are helping Gov. Kathy Hochul campaign for election, whether they support her or not, thanks to a generous use of taxpayer money to fly her by helicopter and plane back and forth across the state.
The New York Post reported earlier this week that Hochul used the state plane and helicopter a whopping 140 times over the last seven months, costing taxpayers $170,000.
It’s no coincidence that she’s also seeking election after taking over last August from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, himself a frequent flier on the taxpayers’ dime.
The governor defends her use of state aircraft, saying that she works 24/7 and must visit all areas of the state as part of her job.
But how much of her travel is directly necessitated by state business and how much is a convenient excuse for her to make campaign stops without having to spend money from her campaign war chest?
This isn’t the first time in her short tenure that the new governor has been accused of misappropriating state aircraft for personal and political use.
Back in January, following a Times Union investigation, her campaign was forced to pay back the state nearly $31,000 she owed for six days of travel late last year in which she mixed campaigning and state business.
Part of the problem with knowing whether the air travel was justified or not is that Hochul’s office has not released her most recent public schedules that would show how she used the state’s aircraft.
Her office said she files those reports quarterly, and the last quarter ended on June 30. Her latest schedule, then, wouldn’t be due out until the end of September.
So what’s the big deal about the governor using state aircraft to get around the state?
Obviously, a governor needs to go places for official state business. If she happens to kiss a few hands and shake a few babies along the way, what’s the harm?
And $170,000 for flights in a $220.5 billion state budget is a figurative drop in the ocean, so it’s hardly bankrupting taxpayers.
First off, the governor has an ethical and legal obligation to keep her state business separate from her campaign and personal business. Should taxpayers really be paying for her flights to attend a Buffalo Bills game?
Second, being the face of state government, the governor has a built-in major advantage of incumbency to help her election campaign. Is it fair to her political opponents and their supporters that she extend that advantage by using taxpayer-funded aircraft for questionable trips?
Third, she has an obligation to be transparent about her use of state resources. Yet she’s going to withhold information on her travel for the next three months?
If she won’t disclose the travel schedules, the state comptroller and attorney general need to investigate her use of state aircraft and give the taxpayers the information they have a right to know.