Murkowski makes exit on notorious jet

Plane trip costs governor's office $1,689 per hour

Posted: Thursday, December 14, 2006

The jet that helped bring former Gov. Frank Murkowski's political career to an end also carried him out of state at the end of his term.

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On Dec. 1, Murkowski flew out of Juneau for the last time as governor on the $2.5 million executive jet he bought over the objections of many political leaders. His wife accompanied him on his final trip.

Murkowski's destination on Dec. 1 was Texas, after a stop in Salt Lake City, where the Murkowskis own a vacation home. Nancy Murkowski got off the plane there, and Frank Murkowski flew alone to Texas, according to the Department of Public Safety.

The governor's office is billed $1,689 an hour for use of the jet, according to the Department of Public Safety, which operates the plane.

Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety Ted Bachman said the agency doesn't track the reasons for trips by the governor.

"You'd have to call the governor's office for that," he said. "We just bill them at an hourly rate."

Murkowski was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Former Chief of Staff Jim Clark said he was not sure what the purpose of the trip was.

"The last days of the administration, I was really tied up," he said. "He told me he was off to an energy conference, and that's all I know."

It is not clear who will pick up the tab for the flight, or whether it was for official or private purposes.

Gov. Sarah Palin's office will determine who should pay for the trip, said Meghan Stapleton, Palin's press secretary.

"We will certainly look into it if it is not being looked into already and provide answers as quickly as we can," she said.

The decision to purchase the plane became a major political issue in the August primary election. Murkowski placed third with 19 percent of the vote, behind two other candidates who promised to sell the plane.

When Murkowski earlier made a trip to Salt Lake City for a vacation, state Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, objected to Alaskans picking up the cost of a personal trip. Murkowski reimbursed the state.

The total cost of the latest flight trip is unclear. The leg from Salt Lake City to Texas was about 2.5 hours each way, and a flight home from Bellingham was a little more than two hours, but the total flying time couldn't be immediately determined.

Bachman said the hourly rate covers cost of fuel and pilots, but not other costs such as the price of the plane itself and its management.

"It's not even going to be close" to the total cost, he said.

After the Texas energy conference, Murkowski traveled to New York City to celebrate a granddaughter's 21st birthday, the Associated Press reported. He did not return to Alaska as governor. Palin was sworn in on Dec. 4.

The jet returned empty to Juneau on Dec. 3 and has been parked since. Palin promised during her campaign to sell it, and Tuesday she announced it would be listed for sale on eBay.

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