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Kottkamp say’s he’ll reimburse state for his family’s flights

By Staff | Feb 8, 2009

TALLAHASSEE (AP) — Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp said he would reimburse the state $12,974 for flights his wife and son took aboard state planes after a newspaper investigated their travel.
The Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale reported Sunday that Kottkamp billed taxpayers $425,000 for 365 flights on state planes in his first two years in office, two-thirds of them to and from the Fort Myers area, where he and his wife own a $1.4 million home. They also own a home in Tallahassee.
Florida law previously barred public officials from using state airplanes for commuting, but lawmakers quietly inserted language into a massive budget bill in July to permit the practice.
State rules require payment, however, for travel by a state official’s family. After the Sun Sentinel inquired about 27 flights made by Kottkamp’s wife and 24 by his young son, he said he would reimburse the state.
“We want to do the right thing,” said Erin Isaac, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Crist.
Mike McClure, the manager of the state Bureau of Aircraft Operations, said Kottkamp wasn’t charged for his family’s flights due to a billing error. The bureau discovered the problem last summer and sent a memo June 18 to state executives reminding them that family members must pay for their travel.
Six days after the memo went out, Kottkamp took his wife and son on a state plane from Fort Myers to Miami and made a return trip two days later. State records show they were not charged for the flights, and his family has not boarded state planes since.
Kottkamp defended his travel, saying it’s easier for him to work from southwest Florida than Tallahassee when he has events south of Tampa, and that use of aircraft has been cut back as the state deficit balloons.
“We have started driving a lot to try and save as much money as we can,” he told the Sun Sentinel.
Florida has six pilots, a jet and a turboprop plane to whisk the governor, lieutenant governor, Cabinet members, House and Senate leaders and the Supreme Court chief justice wherever they need to go for state business.
The state budgets $3.5 million annually for the service, though some lawmakers have been looking for ways to reduce the tab.