Legislators say the governor's jet-purchase plan sank the session

Posted: Sunday, June 27, 2004

In a wide-ranging news conference Friday, Gov. Frank Murkowski defended his administration's plan to use federal homeland security money to buy a jet that would be partly used for the governor's travel.

Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, blamed the session's failure partly on the administration's announcement earlier this month that it wants to purchase the jet. The public reacted angrily, Ellis said.

"Criticism of his good judgment just went through the roof," Ellis said.

By the end of the session, Democrats and at least one Republican were wearing buttons depicting a jet with the crossed-out symbol for "no" through it.

On Friday, Murkowski repeated administration assurances that using $2 million in federal funds to replace one of the state's propeller-driven planes with a jet will reduce operating costs and allow for faster responses to emergencies.

The plan has not yet been approved by the federal government.

Currently, the Alaska State Troopers use two twin-engine C-12 turboprop airplanes for a variety of government-related duties, including transporting the governor. The jet would replace one of those.

Administration officials say since Murkowski was elected, the governor's office has used the two aircraft only 39 percent of the time. The rest of the time the planes are used for law enforcement work and transporting prisoners.

Murkowski said that compares to 49 percent usage by former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles.

"It is not the governor's plane," Murkowski said, but added, "I can't do my job without moving around this state in an airplane."

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