By Marc Kovac
The state has too many airplanes and too few rules for their use.
That’s according to a new report by state Auditor Dave Yost, who launched the audit after news reports about plane use by Gov. John Kasich and at the request of Rep. Matt Lundy, a Democrat from Elyria.
The audit does not pinpoint any wrongdoing or issue findings for recovery, but only because there are no guidelines or rules for plane use by state officials. Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and GOP House Speaker Bill Batchelder were named in the report — Taylor for several trips from her home near the Canton airport and Batchelder to return to the Statehouse for a voting session following a private event in Youngstown. Both reimbursed the state, at a cost of about $1,000 for the flights.
“Some other states have clear rules for the use of their state planes. Ohio does not,” Yost said in a released statement. “While planes may play a valuable role in conducting state business, the state ought to define that role.”
Lundy said the audit “revealed what has been my concern all along, the need for greater accountability.”
“The planes should have been used more responsibly...,” he said. “When you’re using the plane like a limo or a taxi for the sake of convenience ... that’s not the proper use. ... I don’t know if the best judgment was exercised in the case of the lieutenant governor.”
The audit focused on the use of two state-owned airplanes and one helicopter by the governor and his Cabinet members and other agency officials.
Yost determined that the state has too many aircraft, with none being used more than 200 hours per year. He also found that no guidelines or controls are in place “to prevent inappropriate use” of aircraft, nor are state agencies required to include “a specific detailed reason” for using planes.
“I was shocked and disappointed,” Yost said of the finding. “We have, over at the Department of Administrative Services, we’ve got guidelines about using vehicles, but the much more expensive and important assets, the aircraft, don’t have that degree of guidance. ... There aren’t any real controls in place either to make sure that the aircraft are properly used.”
The auditor could not review plane use before 2011, because the state’s current records retention policy calls for only one year of flight information to be kept on file.
Of the 73 flights last year that were examined by Yost, only a handful — three by Taylor and one by Batchelder — raised questions. However, because there was no “objective standards or legal basis” for aircraft use, Yost said he could not say definitively that any trips were improper. That said, “out of those 73, virtually all of them were unquestionably appropriate,” Yost said. “And that’s the good news in this for the people of Ohio. This is not an area of rampant abuse. It just has the potential for that.”