SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) - Gov. Susana Martinez hasn't flown on any state aircraft -- including the infamous jet -- since she took office Jan. 1.
When she's been needed at meetings across the state, she has driven.
"I have a car desk in the back seat," she said in a recent interview with News 13. "I get lots of work [done] in the back seat. There's no need to be flying."
The newly-elected Republican's stance on the state planes is in stark contrast to the administration of former Gov. Bill Richardson, her Democratic predecessor. A News 13 investigation in 2010 uncovered widespread abuses in relation to the planes, including political appointees and government bureaucrats who frequently used them as expensive taxicabs to meetings without regard to cost.
Highway commissioners were some of most frequent fliers. They charged the public nearly $685,000 over a four-year period for flights to routine meetings. For example, in June 2007, Commission Chair Jonny Cope flew on the jet from his home in Hobbs to Santa Fe and back at a cost to taxpayers of $7,000.
The investigation also uncovered abuses by Richardson on down.
During the campaign for governor, the state jet became the poster child for waste and excess in the Richardson administration. In billboards and soundbites, Martinez vowed that, if elected, she would sell the jet.
"It's a clear symbol of the arrogance and overspending in state government," she said recently.
Now, she's making good on her promise. Since taking office, she has grounded the jet and put it up for sale. The jet sported not one, but two "for sale" signs during a recent News 13 interview with Martinez at the Santa Fe Airport.
In fact, that interview in late January was the first time Martinez had seen either the jet or the state's two other planes up close and in person. She checked out the jet's leather seats, wet bar and other amenities.
"Very nice," she said. "Very fancy. But not to be paid for by New Mexicans."
The Richardson administration in 2005 paid $5.5 million for the Cessna Citation Bravo , which cost taxpayers more than $2,800-an-hour to fly.
"We don't need it," Martinez said. "This plane will not be used by the administration whatsoever."
Martinez plans to keep the other two planes -- a 1983 Turbo Commander and a 2006 King Air turbo prop . She said she will fly on those aircraft when she's tight on time or has a series of back-to-back meetings. Otherwise, she will drive with her state police security detail in a state-owned Ford Expedition.
"Is [flying] convenient?" she said. "Sure. But ... we've got to cut back and I'm willing to sit in the back seat and work."
A fourth state-owned airplane -- a 1976 King Air -- has been grounded since 2007 because it has so many miles on it. The state has been unable to sell that plane.
So, will highway commissioners be able to continue their high-flying habits? Nope, Martinez said. They've been grounded too.
"New Mexicans don't want to see their taxes go up so that someone can fly a plane like this just go to meetings," Martinez said.
Any state employee can use state aircraft for official business, but it must be cost effective. Since Martinez took over, the only plane that's taken to the air is the 2006 King Air, which has been used four times by Children's Medical Services to provide care to sick kids in rural areas.
As for the jet, the state may hire a broker to try and recoup as much taxpayer money as possible. Martinez said she'd like to get at least $3 million for it. However, selling the jet may not be so easy as the market is saturated with hundreds of used, private jets.
Martinez also said she has ordered a blue ribbon task force to review safety procedures with the planes after another News 13 investigation uncovered safety lapses. The task force's report is expected in the next month.
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