Scott departure will force state plane decision


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida leaders will soon have to determine how exactly the new governor and Cabinet members will be able to travel the state after Gov. Rick Scott, who use a private jet, leaves office.

But so far, the campaigns of Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum have not outlined how the winner of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election would travel when no longer driving and flying on the dollars of political contributors.

DeSantis’ campaign said its focus right now is getting the former Republican congressman elected.

“All of that is premature,” Stephen Lawson, a DeSantis spokesman, said in an email Wednesday. “The only thing we’re focused on is working hard towards a big win on November 6th.”

But former Gov. Bob Martinez said plans such as transportation are among the issues the next governor, whoever it may be, needs to have someone working on now.

Martinez, who appeared Wednesday in Tallahassee at a Florida TaxWatch event focused on helping the next governor transition into office, gave his support to the state again owning aircraft for statewide officials.

“I know it may be controversial in the minds of people, but when you’re up here almost in Georgia and you’ve got go down to Miami, you’re looking at almost 700, 800 miles, you’re just not going to drive it,” Martinez said. “It’s just not going to happen.”

The quickest drive from Tallahassee to Miami is just under 500 miles.

Scott made the state’s ownership of a pair of airplanes and employment of flight crews a campaign issue when he first ran for office in 2010 and later unloaded the planes.

The cost to fly the state planes was more than $3,000 an hour, or about $2.4 million a year. The Department of Management Services accepted a bid for $1.9 million for a state jet and $1.8 million for a prop plane. The governor also ordered the agency to lay off 11 people who worked in the state air pool.

The changes were possible because the multimillionaire Scott’s wealth allowed him to use his personal aircraft.

Owning a plane doesn’t appear an option for DeSantis, who had a net worth of $310,971 as of Dec. 31, or Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor who had a net worth of $334,200 as of June 18.

TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said that even though state ownership of aircraft had a cost to taxpayers, the planes served a necessary function of safety and access.

“Ultimately, we think it’s an important tool for the governor, given the fact that we’re a very, very large state,” Calabro said. “Part of it is bringing the executive branch and the Cabinet and the Senate president and (House) speaker to the entire people of Florida.”

Calabro said the state should have two or maybe three aircraft for state leaders, nothing “crazy” so that state university football coaches are using them.

Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, didn’t commit to any new vehicles but said Wednesday he will work with the new governor on transportation.

“The Legislature will work with the new governor to ensure he is able to get around our state at the best value for taxpayers,” Oliva said in a statement.

Martinez said it’s important for the governor, Cabinet members and other state officials to have contact with all residents.

He noted that while he was in office, before the common use of cell phones, he wouldn’t accept speaking engagements if they were more than 100 miles outside of Tallahassee.

“You just can’t afford it to spend half a day going to Tampa to give a speech at lunchtime.” Martinez said.

Martinez said an offer he didn’t take while governor was allowing the Republican Party of Florida to pay for charter flights.

“The question is, who is donating the money?” Martinez said. “There would be a constant state of controversy over who is giving money to the Republican Party so I could fly down to Miami to give a speech. So that doesn’t work.”