TALLAHASSEE — Florida's budget crisis may be too severe to continue the cost of supplying a round-the-clock security guard and personal escort for Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, the Senate budget chief said Monday.
"I haven't learned about too many lieutenant governors being accosted lately," said Sen. J.D. Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Among projected cutbacks, Alexander wants to eliminate one of the state's two planes, forcing Kottkamp and other state officials who rely on the plane to travel from Tallahassee to their hometowns to fly commercial instead. Alexander, a Republican from Winter Haven, said he also objects to state officials relying on the state to pay for travel during "off-hours."
Kottkamp, a former state representative from Cape Coral, owns homes in Cape Coral and Tallahassee. His wife, Cyndie, and son, Jackson, 5, spend most of their time in Cape Coral. Like lieutenant governors before him, he has been assigned a Florida Highway Patrol trooper for security.
After the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale reported Sunday that the state paid for travel by Kottkamp's wife and son, Kottkamp said Monday that he will reimburse the state an estimated $6,600 for his family's trips.
According to an analysis by the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau, Kottkamp's family took about 25 flights on state planes, including trips to Fort Myers; Washington; Richmond, Va.; Atlanta; Cape Canaveral; and Miami.
The Times/Herald analysis also showed that Kottkamp took 226 flights on state aircraft in 2007 and 2008, with about 45 percent of them between Tallahassee and his hometown of Fort Myers. The only other state official who traveled more than Kottkamp during that time was Gov. Charlie Crist, who took about 270 flights.
Kottkamp is accompanied on most of his trips by a state trooper whose trips are paid for by the Highway Patrol.
Kottkamp often traveled with other state officials; the total cost of his state air travel during that time amounted to $402,000, including $112,890 spent by his office sending empty planes across the state to pick him up, according to the Times/Herald analysis. By contrast, Crist spent $32,071 on empty planes.
Crist said Monday that he was not bothered by Kottkamp's use of the state plane and commended him for deciding to reimburse the state for his family's travel.
The lieutenant governor is not the only state official who has had family members ride with him on the state plane and has failed to reimburse the state.
According to the analysis, Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson's wife, Regina, flew to Nashville and Lexington, Ky., and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's husband, Bill McBride, flew on six flights including a one-day round trip to Marco Island.
Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Steve Bousquet and Times staff writer Ernest Hooper contributed to this report. Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.