April 23, 2014

Governor questions why state has planes after she pays to use them

Governor Nikki Haley is questioning why South Carolina keeps state planes if she can’t use them for what she considers legitimate business.

“Palmetto 1″ is one of the two planes that South Carolina owns (Courtesy: SC Aeronautics Commission)

Haley paid the state Aeronautics Commission more than $9,500 after the Associated Press raised questions about her using state planes to fly to bill signings and other news conferences. The issue is that legislators added a clause to the budget in April 2011 that banned the use of state-owned planes for these purposes.

The Governor’s Office now says it was not aware of the clause until they were alerted by an AP reporter. Some of the flights she took were to sign bills such as one that created a state Medal of Valor (which she signed in Anderson County) and to promote her ethics reform plan across the state in August.

At a press conference in Columbia Monday, Haley hinted that she thought the planes were no longer worth keeping if that was the case. “I need the plane to meet as many constituents as possible and tell them what we’re doing,” she said, according to the online news site Patch. “If I can’t do that, then I’m not sure why we need the planes.”

Haley last rode a state-owned aircraft on Wednesday. That was a four-leg trip to Charleston, Beaufort, Hilton Head and back to Columbia. The flight’s manifest lists “economic development” events and a “military mtg” at Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Beaufort County.

At the bottom of each manifest is listed “I hereby certify this trip is for the official business of the state of South Carolina.” Haley’s signature is on each form.

However, the issue does not appear to be clear-cut as to what is considered an “official event.” For example, House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) recently flew to Clemson to speak at the South Carolina Apple Festival on September 7, according to flight manifests. State Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-Columbia) also flew to Northern Virginia to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus last month. But Haley uses the plane more frequently than other elected officials.

Any statewide officer or legislator can use the planes for “official” business, but the 2011 language specifically states that press conferences are not official business. State Sens. Vincent Sheheen (D-Camden) and Jake Knotts (R-Lexington) told the AP that the language was added after previous governor Mark Sanford racked up 83,000 miles in his last two years of office.