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Kathy Hochul Attacks New York Taxpayers With $271,000 Flight Bill In First Year As Governor

Empire State taxpayers spent at least $271,000 for Governor Hochul to fly a state-owned plane during her first year in office amid skyrocketing fuel prices and a fierce election fight, according to an analysis in the Post.

“It’s very difficult to see how this is putting the public interest first, given how expensive it is to fly these planes,” said John Kaehny, executive director of government watchdog Reinvent Albany.

“There’s a long history now of New York governors acting like royalty and that’s part of that,” he added.

Hochul, 64, flew 210 flights across New York in Sikorksy S-76 helicopter and King Air planes, with tape clippings, phone calls and virtual meetings often listed as official activities justifying the use of state police-operated aircraft .

Many of those flights have coincided with “private” events that appear to be fundraisers and campaign breaks as Democrat Hochul built a record $60 million war chest before her six-point win over Republican Lee Zeldin in the gubernatorial race. closest in a generation.

“I would say it was an election year, and she blurred the lines between the incumbent and the political campaign at taxpayer expense,” said Conservative Party Chairman Jerry Kassar, who backed Zeldin.

Flights include an hour-long July 5 ride on a leaded gasoline-spewing helicopter — which costs about $2,500 an hour to operate — to Hochul to sign legislation in New York City that aims to reduce the footprint of state carbon. She then immediately returned to Albany, according to recently released public schedules for July, August and September.

Another helicopter flight from Manhattan brought the governor to Albany for a phone call with Rochester Mayor Malik Evans and a virtual meeting with administration officials on August 22, ahead of two other “private” events that coincided with a collection of $180,000 for the day.

A Sept. 26 trip by King Air plane, costing about half the helicopter’s hourly rate, took Hochul from Buffalo to the Big Apple, where he met with staff before five “private” events that coincided with about $225,000 in gifts to her campaign, records show.

Ordinary New Yorkers, meanwhile, were trying to recover from the hit their wallets took last summer, as gas prices soared to more than $5 a gallon in some locations.

Those flights came at the end of a year in which Hochul took several more questionable flights, including a trip in September 2021 to watch his beloved Buffalo Bills play in their home opener.

“Gov. Kathy Hochul may try to defend her frequent use of state planes, but the latest release of her public schedule and inappropriate use of taxpayer funds is just more evidence she’s out of touch when it comes to understanding the hardships financial burdens of the average New Yorker,” said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Fulton).

“A Governor May Go Home”

A Feb. 9, 2022 policy memo issued by the Hochul administration outlines how the governor and other officials should use state planes.

“The primary purpose of any travel must be a bona fide government purpose that is not merely an excuse to engage in non-government business,” reads the policy, which mandates reimbursement “based on current charter costs” for flights that do not meet that standard.

Hochul reimbursed the state for two dozen flights between July and September 2022, as well as others earlier this year, following a report by the Albany Times Union highlighting events in the campaign it held on the same day as its taxpayer-funded air travel.

“Everything we do is proper use of state aircraft. Everything I do is warranted by ethics and follows applicable state policies,” Hochul said last summer when the Post asked her about her travel habits.

“And at the end of the day, a governor can go home. Buffalo is my home,” added Hochul, who also resides at the Executive Mansion in Albany where state planes must stay at the beginning and end of each day.

That means the state police first had to fly the King Air, which it seized by the New York Power Authority last year, from Albany to Buffalo to pick up Hochul before it traveled to New York City on Sept. 26, with l ‘plane which then flew back to Albany without her.

The combined costs of Hochul’s flights through early July 2022, including these repositioning flights, were approximately $250,000, according to a Post analysis of flight records obtained via a Freedom of Information law request last summer.

Data showing relocation costs were not available for the last six weeks of his first year in office, although records show at least $21,000 in additional costs from flights carrying Hochul alone from July to August 23, 2022.

“A rather ignominious achievement”

Hochul’s frequent flying habits put her in the same league as disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo, who has also drawn criticism for his questionable use of state aircraft.

Records show Cuomo made 195 trips in 2017 on state planes, 189 the following year while running for re-election, and another 220 in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic brought travel disruption.

After Cuomo stepped down amid multiple scandals in August 2021, Hochul vowed to remake state government along more ethical and transparent lines, an effort seemingly undermined by the more than 200 flights he made in his first year in office.

“It’s a pretty ignominious accomplishment, to be able to get up close and personal with his incredible use of state aircraft,” Kaehny said.

Hochul built his political brand as lieutenant governor by criss-crossing the state, often by car, to small community events throughout New York City, but that approach makes far less sense now that he’s the state’s chief executive, according to Kaehny.

“It also makes you wonder how the governor and the governor’s staff have time to think and make sensible decisions when the whole MO was flying and traveling constantly every second, and all that dynamic of always being rushed, it always has to be there, it has to be always there,” he said. “Why?”

Political rivals say Hochul’s use of state planes is a sign that he has lost touch with New Yorkers as he traveled around the state, presumably on their behalf.

“At the end of the day, most people hail a cab, hail an Uber, drive a car or take the train,” Barclay said, “but the governor — despite repeated and justified criticism — continues with his funding high-income taxpayer-funded luxury travel expenses.”

Hochul spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays dismissed continued criticism of the governor and his travel habits late Thursday.

“Governor Hochul works around the clock and travels across the state delivering to New Yorkers because that’s her job,” she said. “All aircraft use is approved by the board and follows guidance clearly outlined in the publicly available aircraft use policy.”

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