in Houston, Texas
Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott thriftier than A&M officials in use of state planes; View their flight records here
Monday, Apr 19, 2010, 08:57PM CST
By Mark Lisheron

With campaign funding to get them where they want to go, Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott summon the taxpayer-paid state fleet sparingly, reserving the flights for state emergencies and business.

The two high-ranking elected state officials generally fly with an entourage that includes security, in numbers that make the flights cost effective for the distances they travel, according to a Texas Watchdog review. Texas Watchdog looked at every flight itinerary for Perry and Abbott from Nov. 1, 2007 through Oct. 31, 2009.

The spartan use of the Texas Department of Transportation Aviation Division planes by Perry and Abbott contrasted with the use of the planes by officials from Texas A&M University who, during the same period made three dozen flights that were questionable in their cost, their number of passengers and distances flown.

It was impossible to tell exactly how many people were on the flights, because all references to security personnel were redacted from the documents. Open records attorneys in Abbott's office ruled that these officials could withhold information about staffing related to the prevention of terrorism or other related criminal activity.

The most intense use of the planes came in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. Gov. Perry, almost always traveling with his wife Anita and several staff members, flew eight times between Sept. 3, 2008, and Sept. 24, 2008, to stricken areas and to visit with evacuees, according to the flight manifests.

Perry does most of his air travel in planes paid for through his campaign, Allison Castle, his press secretary, said.

Flights ranged in cost from about $2,000 to about $5,000. The hourly rate for the state fleet ranges anywhere from about $950 per hour to about $1,200 per hour. Given the number of people listed, most of the flights were comparable to or a better value than flying commercial.

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