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A Times Editorial

Taking taxpayers for a ride

Jeff Kottkamp may wind up actually achieving something as lieutenant governor. His remarkable lack of judgment and ridiculous travel expenses should convince more civic-minded Floridians to push for a constitutional amendment to abolish the office.

Florida is cutting the salaries of state employees, eliminating jobs and reducing services. But here is a lieutenant governor so tone deaf that he has a state trooper drive him and his family in a state-owned vehicle to suburban Atlanta last weekend for a Kenny Loggins concert. The icing on the cake: The occasion was a surprise birthday party for a Tallahassee lobbyist.

Kottkamp already had demonstrated he is clueless before his footloose weekend. From January 2007 to December 2008, Kottkamp's office charged the state more than $722,000 for air travel. That is more than anyone else except the governor, who actually makes decisions now and then. But this lieutenant governor tends to little beyond routine appearances and ribbon cuttings. Maybe if Kottkamp had moved to Tallahassee and taken the office seriously instead of maintaining his home in Fort Myers and treating the job as one continuous commute at public expense, things would be different.

Of course, Kottkamp is unrepentant about this latest junket and notes he is driving more and flying less these days. He paid for his weekend hotel bill himself, leaving taxpayers to pick up the cost of the trooper's room. And he points out that state law requires the Florida Highway Patrol to provide the lieutenant governor with around-the-clock security wherever he goes. Unless there is some unknown specific threat, the only protection this lieutenant governor needs is from his lack of common sense.

The real damage here is not to Kottkamp's political future, which is slim to none. The damage is to the public's confidence that state government is well-run and their tax dollars are well spent. If the lieutenant governor cannot grasp the problem with spending public money to have a trooper drive him to a rock concert in Georgia to celebrate a lobbyist's birthday, that raises questions about his judgment in other areas as well.

Gov. Charlie Crist often calls Kottkamp the best lieutenant governor ever, thereby insulting most of the previous ones. The governor also is known for his personal frugality. But Crist is Kottkamp's boss, and Kottkamp's travel reflects poorly on the Crist administration. The governor can expect to hear more about that in his next election campaign, and he better have a ready answer about how he responded to this foolishness. At least Crist stopped short Thursday of committing to keeping Kottkamp on the ticket if he runs for re-election in 2010.

In the meantime, anyone interested in reducing state government and saving taxpayer money now has an easy pitch: Back a petition drive for a constitutional amendment to abolish the office of lieutenant governor. Call it the Kottkamp Amendment.

Taking taxpayers for a ride 05/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 8, 2009 11:58am]
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