Governor Beshear's Costly Excursion

Office-seekers on every level make much each election cycle of erasing all government-waste and -fraud virtually overnight upon assuming office. This is the mantra in Kentucky, where waste and fraud are as justifiably expected as the next sunrise, horse races, bourbon/moonshine, and various grades of tobacco, not to mention marijuana in secluded areas, usually in the knob/mountainous regions. The waste and fraud are never erased but the citizens are so inured to this circumstance that they give it a ho-hum and continue channel-surfing.

Case in point: Lexington Herald-Leader reporter/columnist Ryan Alessi went to some pain in the 19 July edition (front-page-above-the-fold-first section) to give Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear some notice concerning his gobbling up of the state's money in treating his capitol-gang to a three-airplane round-trip excursion to Pikeville, Ky., on the seventeenth, though the meeting they attended was in Virgie, Ky., (population: 2768), requiring more transportation on the ground. Alessi also laid it on the governor over this trip on the Kentucky Education Television program COMMENT on the eighteenth. The cost, not counting that which applied on the Virgie end: more than $7,000.

The guv's spokesperson made it plain that time was saved in the process time so valuable that a 350-mile round-trip requiring some six hours by highway had to be avoided. The plane trip(s) and additional ground transportation at Frankfort to and from the airport and Pikeville airport to and from Virgie (a distance of 15-20 miles) probably took no less than four hours, so a strategic TWO hours were saved for these important people.

A check on the Internet with Bus Bank turned up the information that a deluxe motor-coach seating 45-55 people and equipped with air-conditioning and a bathroom, of course, would cost between $600 and $1500 per day, depending on further amenities such as a hostess, obviously not needed for this excursion, which would have taken 9-10 hours, including the "town-hall" meeting at which only the governor spoke. Typically, excursions such as this one are figured at about $20 per person per day.

The kicker, though, is in the fact that the trip was made by the governor and 15 state officials, all of whom could have been accommodated on the two state planes that were used, which seat a total of 19 people. This makes one wonder why a private plane, at a cost of $4474, was chartered, when the two state planes, at a combined cost of $2614, could have handled the whole entourage, with three seats to spare. The question: who were the passengers who had no business on a strictly business trip? The extra plane could hold 11 people, making their transport cost $407 per person to fly Frankfort-Virgie and return.

A further question would have to do with any possible considerations accruing to the fact that the government's Beechcraft King Air cost $1320 to operate for the trip while the private plane, also a Beechcraft King Air seating the same number of people cost $4474, far more than three times as much. What connections could this suggest between the governor and the operator of the private service? One wonders what the state auditor might say about this, although she may have been one of the officials on the trip.

This stinks, of course, especially since the governor plans 12 more such "town-hall" trips around the state, with the expectation being that a similar rip-off is in the offing each time. For probably no more than $1000 the transportation right to the front-door in Virgie, bypassing Pikeville airport altogether, could have been effected on a luxury motor coach, such coaches seen all the time throughout the state. No official would have had to drive and could have snoozed on the return trip and been back in Frankfort by midnight. Disgusting! If the governor thinks this stuff will help the 39% approval rating he enjoyed in April at the end of the legislative session, his elevator is not reaching the top floor.

Actually, the governor posited his entire campaign last year upon his promise to bring casino-gambling to Kentucky (thereby forestalling bankruptcy), such gambling actually to be handled by the horse-racing crowd if it, whether if agreed to by the governor or not, could get away with it by getting the legislature to ante-up. The fractious legislators, recognizing the unfairness to other operators and no doubt understanding prices to be paid at vote-time this November, killed the putsch. Having ignored an actual problem January-March, that of restructuring the state pension-system, the governor convened a special session of the legislature in June at a cost of $60,000 per day that did in five days what it couldn't do in three months, thus more waste and fraud.

And so it goes in Kentucky. Sound familiar?