Governor tries a third time for state jet

Murkowski would sell plane to lease aircraft

Posted: Friday, April 22, 2005

Denied by the federal government and rebuffed by the state Legislature, Gov. Frank Murkowski is now making a third attempt to acquire a state jet.

Murkowski wants to sell one of the state Department of Public Safety's King Air propeller planes and use that money to lease a jet, said spokeswoman Becky Hultberg.

The financial details are still being worked out, but Murkowski has not been dissuaded by the House removing the $1.4 million line item for a jet from next year's budget, or by the federal government denying the use of homeland security money last year, she said.

"He's never been shy about fighting for the right decision," Hultberg said. "He's going to do at the end of the day what he thinks is right."

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had rejected the proposal to buy a jet with federal funds because it failed to meet the parameters for using that money.

Murkowski has been criticized by some lawmakers from both parties for wanting a jet for his personal use. Murkowski uses the state plane about 40 percent of the time it is in the air. The rest of the time it is used by the Department of Public Safety.

"Sixty percent of the time this aircraft is used to fulfill very important public safety and corrections missions," Hultberg said.

Hultberg said the administration does not need legislative approval to sell state assets and use the money to buy or lease new assets.

Some lawmakers turned to comic relief to express their frustration with the governor's latest attempt to lease a jet. By Thursday afternoon, buttons were circulating in the Capitol that showed a picture of Star Wars' Darth Vader and read "Return of the Jet."

Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, tried earlier this legislative session to include a provision in the budget that no state money would be used on a jet without prior legislative approval. The line item to lease a jet was pulled from the state budget, but Croft's measure failed to be adopted by the House Finance Committee.

"I don't have a crystal ball, but I have learned that this governor is stubborn, particularly when it comes to bad ideas," Croft said Thursday.

Croft said he doesn't buy the idea that selling a plane to pay for a year's lease on a jet won't cost the state. The lease will have to be paid somehow in later years, he said.

Hultberg said the governor is aware of the ill feelings about the aircraft.

"There are going to be those who try to make political hay out of this decision," she said.

But, she added, "when he makes a decision, he sticks with it."

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