Taxpayers doll out unnecessary cash for politicians to fly downs - FOX 32 News Chicago

Taxpayers doll out unnecessary cash for politicians to fly downstate

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A person can fly roundtrip from Chicago to Springfield next week for a little over $200. So, why are Illinois taxpayers spending nearly five times that amount to fly politicians and bureaucrats the same route?

One of the state's four daily shuttle flights arrives at Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Airport. The King Air 350 Turboprop seats nine passengers, but on one morning last fall, FOX 32 saw only one passenger get off the plane.

That flight from Chicago cost taxpayers more than $2400.

FOX 32 and the Better Government Association went through more than a year's worth of flight logs and found that the planes were frequently flying with only a couple passengers on board.

IDOT’s aeronautics director justified it, though.

"We consider our aircraft to be a time machine. It allows elected officials, state employees, to get them from point to point in a time-efficient manner," said Susan Shea.

However, after FOX 32's investigation, IDOT announced a new policy aimed at making the service more efficient. The state planes would only fly if there were at least four passengers on one leg of the round trip flight. That change came from IDOT director Ann Schneider, who FOX 32 watched getting off the plane at midway earlier this week.

FOX 32 News asked Schneider whether she was satisfied with the policy change that was made.

"Yeah, I think it's had a tremendous effect. We've seen some flights canceled because we didn't have enough passengers to meet the requirement under the new policy," said Schneider.

However, FOX 32 found the shuttle planes are still frequently flying nearly empty and costing a fortune.

Of the 389 flights since the policy took effect in November, 43 flights carried just one passenger, and 38 flights had just two.

On average, there are only a little more than five passengers per flight, which means taxpayers are spending $941 to fly each of those passengers roundtrip.

By contrast, FOX 32 went online and found a roundtrip ticket to Springfield on a commercial airliner costs $210, and that's just with three days notice.

Amtrak offers service between Chicago and Springfield for $20 each way.

And state employees can drive the 200 mile trip for a mileage reimbursement of $112.

"It’s a luxury the taxpayers of Illinois just can't afford," said Republican State Rep. Bill Mitchell.

Mitchell has been a longtime critic of the shuttle service, introducing numerous bills to kill it -- none of which has ever made it to the floor of the legislature.

"We’re cutting education. We're cutting seniors. Why do we have this luxury that's just a perk for politicians and high level bureaucrats," asked Mitchell.

But now the plane is causing turbulence in the race for governor.

Republican Bruce Rauner last week cited the shuttle service as an example of wasteful spending that he would abolish.

"We have the largest fleet of planes of any state. Why? It's hugely expensive. Its millions of dollars. And it's just indicative of the mindset of waste we have in our state government," said Rauner.

This may explain why IDOT’s director, who has flown the shuttle 272 times in the last two and a half years -- more than any other person -- seemed to suggest winds of change are coming.

"We’re evaluating further the fleet and we'll be making some recommendations to the governor in the near term," added Schneider.

FOX 32 News also found nine instances where the IDOT shuttle flew despite not having at least four passengers total round trip, as per the new policy. That's because, though, people canceled at the last minute, and IDOT had already committed to fly the plane.

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