TOPEKA — Fees charged state agencies to book flights on the nine-passenger Beechcraft King Air 350 used by Gov. Sam Brownback and other officials are insufficient to cover operational costs of fuel and maintenance, an audit said Monday.
Kansas legislators on the House-Senate audit committee received a report recommending the base fee — unchanged after set at $1.50 per mile in the mid-2000s — be adjusted by the Kansas Highway Patrol to reconcile the shortfall. The actual cost of operating the Topeka-based airplane was $5.09 per mile in fiscal 2014, $4.85 per mile in fiscal 2015 and $4.47 per mile in 2016, the audit said.
In response to the report, KHP officials said a proposal would be submitted to the Brownback administration to bring usage fees in line with expenditures.
KHP, which owns the Beechcraft, spent $291,000 in the 2015-2016 fiscal year to maintain and operate the airplane. The law enforcement agency collected $102,000 in user fees, or 35 percent of the cost of 123 flights that totaled 65,000 miles. Fees made up 31 percent of costs in fiscal 2015 and 24 percent in fiscal 2014. The KHP absorbs the difference within its budget, auditors said.
The governor’s office was the No. 1 user of the aircraft in the fiscal year ending in June 2016, taking responsibility for 34 flights. Other top users: University of Kansas, 22 flights; Kansas Department of Transportation, 17 flights; Kansas Department of Commerce, 12 flights; and Kansas Department of Agriculture, 10 flights.
Auditors urged legislators to better define appropriate use of the airplane. State law enables a governor to take the executive aircraft on state business, political travel or personal trips.
“However,” the audit said, “it is not entirely clear whether the governor must reimburse the state for the personal or political travel. State law does not address whether or how state agency officials other than the governor can use the executive airplane.”
KHP officials told auditors information wasn’t collected about the purpose of flights and individual state agencies determined whether air travel was justified.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat on the audit committee, said the state had an interest in making aircraft available to state government officials but taxpayers shouldn’t pay for political travel.
“I do believe we need to have a strict policy on using the plane for political functions. Right now, we have a law that allows the governor to use it for political functions and he doesn’t have to reimburse the state,” Hensley said.