[UPDATE] 2-24 10:15am --
Sen. Budget Chairman JD Alexander has sent a second letter to Gov. Rick Scott, asking the governor to justify legally his sale of two state airplanes that Alexander has charged was illegal. After Alexander, R-Lake Wales, notified the governor last week that he believed the sale of the two state planes violated the law, Scott dismissed the question, responding simply that it wasn’t against the law and he had checked with his general counsel. Alexander wrote the governor again this week asking the governor to elaborate. “Please provide me with the legal authority you relied on and the names of those who advised you that you had this authority,” wrote Alexander, who actually agreed with the governor’s end goal of getting rid of the planes. Alexander asked in the letter that the governor state why the transaction didn’t violate the constitution, or state laws. Alexander says that it appears the sales were illegal because the governor used the proceeds of the sale of one plane to pay off the lease on the other, and because he refused to continue a appropriation put into state law by the Legislature.
[UPDATE] 2-18 8:30AM --
Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday denied a senator’s claim that the governor’s sale of the state planes may have violated the law. Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has tried to get the Legislature to sell the planes for years, said Scott’s recent order to sell them was good policy, but against the law. The Legislature appropriated money for the state air pool, and a state agency can’t simply ignore that. There also may have been other ways the sale violated the law, he said. Scott, during a brief appearance after a tour of the state Lottery, disagreed. “We did it absolutely in compliance with the law. We reviewed it with our general counsel,” Scott said. “It was something that the taxpayers of this state wanted and it was one of the campaign promises that I followed up on.”
Tallahassee, FL -
Gov. Rick Scott’s sale of the state’s planes may have violated Florida law, the Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee said in a letter to the governor Thursday.
Ironically, the letter comes from the legislator who has probably been most vocal that the state should sell the planes, Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who has pushed for the sale of the aircraft for five years. And in his letter, Alexander applauded his fellow Republican Scott for the idea.
“I support your goal, but not the method,” Alexander wrote. “It is important that the proper procedures for accomplishing a goal we both support be followed.”
Alexander noted that Scott’s office last month directed the sale of the state’s two airplanes, using the proceeds of the sale of one of those planes to satisfy lease obligations on the second plane. That essentially means the governor spent state money without an appropriation spelled out in law, which is barred by the constitution.
The law also spells out what must be done with money that comes into the state from the sale of “disposed property,” a law that may have also been broken by the sale, Alexander said.
Another problem: the law also prohibits agencies from not spending money lawmakers have appropriated for a certain purpose. Last year’s budget contained appropriations for lease payments, operations and maintenance of the two planes. To not lease, operate and maintain them appears to violate the law, Alexander said.
“It is my position that you should have sought the approval of the Legislature before undertaking
the sale of the state planes and using the proceeds of the sale of Plane One to satisfy the lease
obligation of Plane Two,” Alexander wrote. “My concern, of course, is that these actions may have violated the law and as such fail to recognize the Legislature by not respecting the Legislature’s constitutional duty to appropriate funds and your duty to spend appropriated funds in accordance with the law.”
Officials in the governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday from the News Service.
The letter came on the same day Scott found himself in another open battle with lawmakers, including several in his own party. Alexander wasn’t one of the 26 senators who wrote to the federal Secretary of Transportation urging the federal government to pay for high speed rail in Florida over the objection of Scott. Scott rejected $2.4 billion from Washington to pay for federal rail, saying it wouldn’t cover the whole cost and the state would end up on the hook for the rest.
But Alexander did tell reporters on Wednesday that the governor may have overstepped his bounds in that regard as well.
“There is this pesky thing called a constitution that limits authority,” Alexander said after Scott rejected the high speed train on Wednesday without notifying many of the members of the Legislature ahead of time. “I still believe the genius of America isn’t just democracy but it’s divided government and limitations on each individual’s ability to act unilaterally.”
The cost to fly the state planes was more than $3,000 an hour, or about $2.4 million a year, and ordering their sale was one of Scott’s first acts in office. The Department of Management Services recently accepted a bid for $1.9 million for the state jet and $1.8 million for its prop plane. The governor also ordered the agency to lay off 11 people who worked in the state air pool.