Local Politics

Easley grounds planned purchase of $9.2M jet

Posted October 8, 2008 5:54 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2008 7:19 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Mike Easley on Wednesday canceled a deal for the state to purchase a $9.2 million jet, citing a lousy economy that had led him to call for budget cuts from most state agencies.

The deal for the Cessna Citation Encore was included in the 2007 budget. The sleek, powerful jet was supposed to replace a King Air turboprop in the state air fleet operated by the Department of Commerce.

In addition to the turboprop, the Department of Commerce uses an older Cessna and a helicopter to ferry business executives around while recruiting industry.

"Knowing what I know about the utilization of the aircraft and how expensive it is, (the new jet) wasn't justified in good times or bad," said Don Carrington, vice president of the conservative John Locke Foundation, who has researched and written about state use of the air fleet.

The new Cessna also was included in the 2008-09 state budget Easley signed this summer. When WRAL News and other media outlets called his office Wednesday afternoon to ask about the jet, he pulled the plug on the deal.

"Gov. Easley has told all cabinet secretaries and agencies, until credit markets loosen up and the economy gets moving, that they are to limit expenditures to a minimum," spokeswoman Sherri Johnson said. "The appropriation for the plane was in the 2007 budget. The plane was not purchased then, and it will not be purchased now. And certainly, a plane will not be purchased in this economy."

Easley last month ordered state agencies to cut their annual budgets by 2 percent, and he said this week he might increase those cuts to 3 percent. He said he wants to conserve about $700 million to prevent his successor from inheriting a ballooning budget deficit when he or she takes office in January.

A 3 percent cut would shave less than $600 million off the $21.4 billion state budget because public schools, Medicaid and student financial aid would be exempt from the cuts.

The state made a $250,000 down-payment on the jet, and Johnson said Easley is working to recoup that money.

"The world has dramatically changed. We're going to have to get along with what we got," Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand said, noting he agreed with Easley's decision to cancel the Cessna purchase. "We might have to start walking around here. Flying is not nearly as important."