The state Department of Public Safety is taking offers to buy a jet or a newer turboprop airplane for use by the department and Gov. Frank Murkowski, despite opposition by some lawmakers and residents who contend a jet is simply a luxury item for the governor.
The department on Wednesday released a request for proposals. The notice says the state intends to award a contract by July 19.
Commissioner Bill Tandeske said Thursday the state is primarily interested in a jet, although officials also will look at proposals for a King Air 350 turboprop, which can fly higher and faster than the King Airs the department now has.
"I think it's been clear that we're interested in the performance a jet can get us," he said.
Murkowski last year was denied a request to buy a jet with federal Homeland Security money. Earlier this year, a $1.4 million line item to lease a jet was removed from the budget by the Legislature.
Both attempts met with reproaches by lawmakers and protest letters to editors in newspapers across the state, but that did little to dissuade Murkowski. In an April news conference, the governor again said he intended to acquire a jet.
"The governor has been pretty clear that this is the right decision," spokeswoman Becky Hultberg said Thursday.
The solicitation is for a jet that can carry at least seven passengers, a maximum 60 feet long with a wingspan of 55 feet, has a range of 1,500 nautical miles and was built after 1980.
The passenger, size and range specifications also apply to turboprop offers, but the propeller plane must be built after 1990. Another condition is that the turboprop must a flush toilet with a privacy door, which the state's King Airs don't have.
The new plane would be paid for in part by selling one of the department's King Airs, Tandeske said. The rest would come from the department's budget, he said.
In the April news conference, Murkowski said the department was considering leasing a Westwind jet for about $30,000 a month with an option to buy. The cost to buy the jet is about $2 million, he said.
Tandeske said the Westwind and several other jets fit the description laid out in the request for proposals. The state, though, is now looking only to buy, he said.
The jet, like other Department of Public Safety planes, would be available for Murkowski when it is not in use by the department. Murkowski uses the department's turboprops about 40 percent of the time they are in the air.
Hultberg said in addition to transporting the governor, the jet could be used to respond to emergencies and for public safety and corrections missions, such as flying prisoners to facilities in Arizona.
Rep. Eric Croft, D-Anchorage, earlier this year tried and failed to include budget language that would prohibit the state from leasing or buying a jet.
Croft then called a jet a luxury that was ill-suited for the state, with its many short and unpaved runways.
The department plans to complete its evaluation of proposals by July 7 and issue a notice of intent to award a contract on July 8.
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