Governor reimburses state for campaign trip in state plane

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff File Photo State aviation program administrator Guy Rouelle stands next to the state-owned Cessna.

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff File Photo
State aviation program administrator Guy Rouelle stands next to the state-owned Cessna.

By Pete Hirschfeld

MONTPELIER — Until recently, most Vermonters probably weren’t aware that the state had its own plane. But news that Gov. Peter Shumlin used the single-engine Cessna in the run-up to last year’s election has lent the aircraft some newfound celebrity.
On Sept. 27 of last year, Shumlin hopped aboard the state-owned plane to make a late-evening flight from Lyndonville to Middlebury. It was one of Shumlin’s five flights aboard the 51-year-old Cessna last year, but it’s proving to be the most controversial.
That’s because Shumlin was en route to Middlebury State Airport so he could catch a car ride to a campaign fundraiser at a private home in Lincoln. When the Burlington weekly Seven Days broke news of the trip last weekend, administration officials asked the campaign to retroactively reimburse taxpayers for the flight.
Officials at the Agency of Transportation valued the cost of the Lyndonville-to-Middlebury leg at $65.80. Deputy Chief of Staff Susan Allen said Tuesday that the administration requested reimbursement “to err on the side of caution.”
“The question was raised and we could argue about it,” Allen said Tuesday. “But we’re not going to argue about it.”
Jack Lindley, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, issued a statement Tuesday accusing Shumlin of using state property for his own political benefit. He said it’s troubling that the state sought reimbursement only after the facts became known to the public.
“Vermonters need to be concerned when they see the governor begin to use his office to access state resources and use them for his personal benefit,” Lindley said in a phone interview. “It’s a scary mentality to see taking hold.”
Lindley said the amount the campaign was asked to reimburse the state is too small.
“I can’t imagine that that covers the gas, let alone the time of the staff, the maintenance on the aircraft, things like that,” Lindley said.
Allen said the trip to Middlebury was only a small diversion from the usual flight plan. She said the governor had to be dropped off somewhere after completing his official duties, and that he simply asked to be flown to Middlebury instead of Berlin.
Shumlin had flown from Berlin to Newport to Lyndonville on official business that day to oversee a series of economic developments, according to records first obtained by Seven Days.
All five of the Democratic governor’s trips aboard the plane came during a nine-week period before the election. Allen said that’s because the governor didn’t find out it existed until last August, at which point he decided to use it to solve some dilemmas posed by his busy schedule.

provided photo A 2013 Beechcraft Baron twin engine plane of the type requested by the Shumlin administration to replace the state's single engine 1962 Cessna 182. The Beechcraft's lease price as listed by the Shumlin administration would be $117,600 per month for ten years.

provided photo
A 2013 Beechcraft Baron twin engine plane of the type requested by the Shumlin administration to replace the state’s single engine 1962 Cessna 182. The Beechcraft’s lease price as listed by the Shumlin administration would be $117,600 per month for ten years.

The Shumlin administration in its budget proposal last month asked lawmakers to replace the three-seat Cessna with a five-seat, $1.5 million Beechcraft Baron. Transportation officials said the ailing Cessna had serious maintenance issues that would cost more than the plane was worth to fix.
But lawmakers criticized the proposal, saying that the state could ill-afford a top-shelf plane as it was pondering an increase in gas taxes to cover a $36 million shortfall in the transportation budget. Lindley on Tuesday said revelations of Shumlin’s use of the plane last year raise questions about why his administration is seeking a new one now.
“It seems pretty obvious to me that he wants something with a wider range, something that can fly to Washington, D.C., or wherever else he wants to go to expand his political fortunes,” Lindley said. “I guess he wants the taxpayers to pay for his political ambitions.”
And she said the request for the new plane came from transportation officials, not from Shumlin.
The Cessna has been grounded since shortly after the election last year, for maintenance issues, according to Allen. The administration, meanwhile, has backed off its proposal to buy a replacement.