2 Investigates: How often do state officials fly high on taxpayers' dime?

ATLANTA — A Channel 2 investigation found state officials occasionally flying high on the taxpayers’ dime. Rather than driving around the state, they’re chartering planes.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Wendy Halloran filed an open records request for everyone running for governor. A lot of people aren't allowed to request a plane, but the secretary of state and the lieutenant governor can. While both took advantage of it, our investigation revealed one did much more than the other.

Over the past five years, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle sometimes avoided traffic by chartering planes to get him around the state when he was on the job. Records Halloran obtained from the Georgia Aviation Authority show he took 68 trips over that past five years with more than 200 legs, or separate flights, at a cost to taxpayers of a quarter of a million dollars. This despite the fact Cagle has a security detail that can drive him places.

What’s more, instead of driving to a metro Atlanta airport to catch a flight, Cagle often has the pilot fly to Gainesville, where he lives, to pick him up at the closest airport. That occurred 37 times in the past five years.

Bryan Long, executive director of Better Georgia, a self-proclaimed progressive advocacy group weighed in on what we found.

“I think Casey Cagle is using chartered flights like a taxi service,” Long said. “He’s a public servant, we all get stuck in traffic and he thinks he’s above it in some way.”

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Records also showed Cagle sometimes flew to multiple stops in one day. But often the Gainesville pick-up seemed out of the way. One example occurred on Aug. 21, 2013 when the plane flew to Gainesville to pick up Cagle then flew him south to La Grange. After his event, he was flown back to Gainesville and then the plane returned to metro Atlanta after dropping him off. Documents show that trip alone cost taxpayers more than $3,000.

We asked the lieutenant governor about that particular trip. He said, “I do not book those flights, it’s done by the office. I do live in Gainesville so many of those flights will originate from Gainesville, not all of them depending if I am in Atlanta making a day trip, but those that are late night events typically they do."

Halloran asked Cagle if he felt his use of the chartered flights was abusive to taxpayers. He responded by saying, “Well, I try to be a very good steward to the taxpayer and I have a record for that. And if you look at my record it is that we sold off the state assets and went to a charter and aviation authority that has contracted with the charter organization, which has basically saved the state a significant amount of money and I think that is very wise.”

Secretary of State Brian Kemp who’s running against Cagle for governor has also chartered planes to travel across the state. But only nine times in the past five years at a fraction of the cost. The tab: $35,994.78.

Kemp had a plane pick him up near his home in Athens four times. And while Cagle agreed to speak on camera, Kemp did not. Records his press secretary Candice Broce provided to Halloran show Kemp needed to fly from his hometown to ensure he would make it on time to early morning speaking engagements in Savannah and Perry. One of those flights occurred on May 18, 2015, when Kemp flew from Athens to Savannah to give remarks at the 38th annual International Association of Commercial Administrators conference, which was then followed with a visit to McIntosh County’s elections office in Darien. Broce says Kemp’s calendar shows his flight left Athens on Monday morning at 6:41 a.m. so he could make it to the conference where he spoke at 8:30 that morning.

Channel 2 investigates review of flights show when Cagle and Kemp charged taxpayers for flights, they were on state business. However, Cagle’s flights far exceeded Kemp’s. Cagle had an explanation for that.

“Well obviously you can’t compare the office of secretary of state to the office of lieutenant governor or the governor or the speaker of the House for that matter.” He went onto say, “I think one is an administrative role and the other an executive role that has decision-making over public policy matters so our schedule is far more taxing on us.”

Kemp issued a statement late Friday that says, “The state airplane is a taxpayer-funded privilege to be used sparingly and only for official purposes. In fact, I prefer to drive my green Suburban to meet with hardworking Georgians around this state. Anyone who abuses this privilege for personal or political purposes should be punished and forced to repay Georgia taxpayers.”

# CHARTER TRIPS ORDERED BY THEIR OFFICE FROM MID 2012-MID 2017

KEMP

 

 

9

CAGLE

 

 

68

# TIMES THEY HAD PLANE PICK THEM UP IN THEIR HOMETOWN

 

 

4

 

 

37

# FLIGHTS (LEGS) ORDERED BY THEIR OFFICE ONLY

 

 

 

 

37

 

 

 

 

227

TOTAL TAXPAYER COST OF FLIGHTS ORDERED SOLELY BY THEIR DEPARTMENT

 

 

 

 

 

$35,994.78

 

 

 

 

$250,153