Alaskans pan changes to senators' flight rules

Reid proposal asks lawmakers to pay for chartered planes

Posted: Monday, January 15, 2007

FAIRBANKS - Making U.S. senators pay the full cost of chartered aircraft will cause illogical problems and cost taxpayers extra when applied to Alaska, according to the state's senators.

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The charter provision is in the Democratic majority's ethics reform package debated on the Senate floor last week and up for final passage this week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wants to make senators pay the full cost of charters.

"If a senator wants to fly on a private jet for any purpose, he or she should be required to pay the full cost of that trip, not a discounted rate," Reid said as he opened debate on the proposal.

The idea is to stop private corporations from providing senators with low-cost travel perks.

The current rule allows senators to reimburse corporations with as little as the equivalent of a first-class ticket price over the same distance.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said the Democrats' rule would apply not only to jets but also to the kind of planes used to get around rural Alaska - small commuter aircraft and even float planes.

Stevens proposed an amendment to provide an exception in places such as Alaska, where flight schedules do not allow travel between two points in a single day.

His request for Democratic support was ignored, he said Friday, so he withdrew the amendment.

Stevens and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said senators often charter aircraft in Alaska and share costs with government and private officials who accompany them. Chartering aircraft is necessary in Alaska, where scheduled commercial flights are too infrequent to allow efficient travel when senators are in the state for a day or two, they said.

If the Democrats' ethics rule passes as is, senators from rural states will have to spend more on charters, Stevens warned on the Senate floor.

"Despite this rule, or any other rule, these flights are essential and will continue and must continue to take place," Stevens said.

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