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Want to fly to work in a private jet? Become a Legislator!

August 2, 2009 most people, flying isn’t among our favorite experiences. The long wait at security, hours sitting on the tarmac, crowded cabin, and there’s never enough leg room. However, some of Florida’s legislators don’t have those “common man” problems.

Using their travel allowance and friendly relationships with lobbyists and political donors, they fly private aircraft at the expense of both taxpayer dollars and ethics.

Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, a trial attorney with a net worth exceeding $10 million, was the most frequent private flier and abuser of taxpayer dollars. His flights were often on a private plane arranged by a Naples technology firm, InfiNetwork, a firm in which an executive has donated $250 to Grady’s campaign. The cost for taxpayers: $7,800.

Sens. Mike Bennett, Garret Richter, and Nancy Detert have traveled together from Sarasota to Tallahassee on a prop plane operated by Dolphin Aviation. Records show that Dolphin Aviation owner Ronald Ciaravella and his company have donated often and generously to Bennet and Detert over the years. The cost for taxpayers: $12,355

When airlines canceled a flight from Tallahassee to Fort Lauderdale in April due to bad weather, Rep. Anitere Flores and Sens. Nan Rich, Dan Gelber and Alex Villalobos hitched a ride home on a private plane chartered by powerful lobbyist Ron Book. The cost for taxpayers $1,400.

How do they justify the costs to taxpayers and explain why they direct taxpayer money to their donors and to lobbyists? Sen. Bennet sums it up very succinctly; “‘Why don’t you drive to Tampa and fly direct on commercial?’ Because it takes me half the damn day to do it!”

Obviously, Sen. Bennet believes that his time is worth more than Florida’s tax dollars. After all, it’s not like he is serving on behalf of the people, or anything.

In 2005, legislators passed a law prohibiting lobbyists from giving them anything of value based on the premise that accepting gifts could directly or indirectly influence their votes. However, by billing the taxpayer for flights on private planes, legislators are able to effectively skirt the law.

We should hope that decent legislators will close this loophole, preventing their more devious colleagues from taking advantage of Florida taxpayers. But does anyone have the courage? We doubt that sometimes, but Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, gives us hope.

Fasano said this, “You should be showing taxpayers you aren’t being accommodated in a special way. Any government official should do their best to take a commercial flight with no lobbyists or lobbyist clients connected to it.” For the record, Mike Fasano only flies commercial.

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