Texas’ agriculture commission, Todd Staples, is racking up heavy taxpayer expenses for what appears to rather frivolous uses of the state’s fleet of private planes. In fact, he has used the planes more than Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott combined! Of course, this is the same Ag Commissioner who is making his mark by using tax dollars to sponsor wine tastings and using taxpayer dollars, through the Ag department, to renovate downtowns.

And, for those keeping track at home, this is the same fleet of fancy aircraft lawmakers considered selling off back in the heady days of 2003, when Republicans first took charge and actually reduced spending. But the power of the perk for the powerful was too strong, and the fleet was transferred to the Texas Department of Transportation.

According to the Houston Chronicle, Commissioner Staples — a former state senator — took advantage of the state’s airplane fleet twice as much as either the governor or the attorney general. The Chronicle story notes that Staples logged $50,302 in state-jet expenses.

Here’s one nugget that they consider defensible: He had all-day meetings in Houston, followed by some meetings in West Texas. So he flew a state plane round-trip Austin to Houston for $2300, and then round-trip Austin to Hereford.

Ironically, I’ve done that same schedule a time or two. For half the money, he could have flown Southwest with his entourage and rented a car in Amarillo. But, let’s face it, he’s too important to stand in line.

On the other hand, Gov. Perry only used the planes half as much (at a cost of $24,500). Probably a little pricey, but he also somehow manages to make commercial flights work. And I’ve flown several times on the same Southwest flights as the Attorney General (who spent about $22k on state planes).

Staples, it should be noted, used the state air fleet alone almost as much as the entire Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

But he didn’t use it as much as TxDOT — which now owns the planes.

And here is yet another reason why we should end this practice. The TxDOT spokesperson, Chris Lippincott, shows a complete disregard for the fact that taxpayers are footing the bill. He told the Chronicle that “State agencies have seen the value of our services as an effective business tool.” Business tool? This is about TxDOT looking to expand their footprint. Sure, road construction is a hassle, but — trust us — we can fly you there on-time!

Great real. But it gets better.

Lippincott said it’s better to use a state agency because of the cost to fly on commercial airlines “continues to rise and its reliability continues to deteriorate.”

Maybe Lippincott and the brain-trust at TxDOT can explain how Southwest’s cheaper flight-costs are more expensive.

And for an agency that miscounted $1 billion, they probably shouldn’t be trash-talking the private sector’s reliability — not to mention that according to the FAA on-time statistics, Southwest has had on-time reliability about 78-80 percent of the time very consistently for a decade. And the industry over-all in the 73-75 percent range.

Try saying that about driving on I-35.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."


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