It was easy enough for Gov. Rick Scott to ground the state's aircraft a day after taking office. The former health care executive is a multimillionaire with his own private jet to ferry him around Florida on his appointed rounds. But for other state officials who also must travel extensively across Florida's considerable land mass, the governor's message was arrogantly clear: Let them eat peanuts. The move was also rash.
As an act of political theater, grounding the state's two planes, a 10-year-old Beech King Air and a 2003 Cessna Citation Bravo, was designed to reinforce the new governor's penny-pinching ways. And in light of past abuses of the state aircraft, most notably by former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who frequently used the planes to perform his relatively nonexistent duties, Scott's announcement to sell the fleet may seem overdue.
But theatrics does not mean sound policy, or efficient government. By Scott's calculation, getting rid of the two planes (and the 10 employees who service and fly them) will save the state $2.4 million. But in effect, the governor has simply privatized air travel for state government — and made it far less feasible.
Perhaps the state should hire a charter service, rather than have its own fleet, to save money. But the governor didn't entertain that notion before shutting the state service down. Nor did he contemplate whether the cost of buying commercial flights or lost productivity on the road for those state employees who drive will actually mean taxpayer savings.
Perhaps in tiny states such as Rhode Island or Delaware, a case could be made that a government air fleet is an unnecessary perk. But in time of crisis — say an approaching hurricane in South Florida —does Scott expect the head of the state's emergency services to sit out at the Tallahassee airport waiting on the next available seat to get to the scene of the problem? Or would he rather him drive the eight hours into the eye of the storm?
What's more, Scott's cavalier reaction to the needs of his fellow Cabinet members, as well as other government officials to travel throughout the state — "They can drive or fly" — was arrogant. Effective leadership suggests a manager should never ask a subordinate or teammate to do something he wouldn't be willing to do. But Scott, talking to reporters Thursday as he stood near his private plane, made clear that wasn't the case. He planned to continue to use his private plane. He has no plans to hang around Tallahassee Regional Airport, standing in line with everybody else to catch a flight home to Naples.
Alas, the nearest city served out of Tallahassee to Florida's southwest coast is Miami.