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Blagojevich's day trips to Springfield have cost taxpayers $76,000

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Ill. Gov. Rod Blagojevich/UPI file photo

By AP/KWMU

Springfield, Ill. – Gov. Rod Blagojevich's practice of flying from Chicago to Springfield and back for daily budget negotiations is costing taxpayers more than $5,800 a day, for a total of roughly $76,000; a number that continues to climb.

The Associated Press analyzed state flight records that show Blagojevich made eight round trips on state airplanes from May 22 to June 7. He spent an average of less than five hours in Springfield each time, including travel time to and from the capital airport.

On a ninth trip, he stayed over two nights as lawmakers tried to meet their May 31 budget-approval deadline. The cost of the travel was $52,540.

Since then, Blagojevich has appeared to follow the same pattern, making at least four more round trips to Springfield. Detailed records are not available, but averages from previous day trips suggest an additional cost of $23,300.

Several of the flights came while Blagojevich aides were admonishing lawmakers for not spending enough time in the Capitol negotiating a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Several lawmakers condemned Blagojevich in speeches on the House floor Wednesday.

After seeing the AP analysis, Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, R-Des Plaines, said she was "highly insulted that he cannot get his butt down here to get things done in a timely fashion, and then go home and waste gas at the taxpayers' expense."

"He doesn't seem to care," added Naperville Republican Rep. James Meyer. "He comes down here when he feels like it for an hour or two, then back to the Chicago area to be at home with his family. I want to know when this governor is going to be serious about running the state."

Past governors have either lived in Springfield or stayed in the capital while the Legislature was in session. Blagojevich lives in Chicago and prefers to go home at the end of each day.

Lawmakers typically meet in Springfield three days a week, and Blagojevich has been flying to Springfield each day. If he arrived at the start of each week's session and stayed at the Executive Mansion until the end, the cost of his flights would be about two-thirds less.

Blagojevich's office refused to answer questions about the matter.

The Illinois Department of Transportation charges state agencies just $0.41 a mile per passenger for flights from Chicago to Springfield. Also, users are not charged anything for the plane flying empty to pick them up or to return to its Springfield hangar after dropping them off in Chicago.

But Auditor General William Holland found in an audit released in January that the actual cost of flying the plane is $9.81 per mile.

The governor's office was charged $1,098 for Blagojevich's flights. But using Holland's formula, flights for which official records are available actually cost $52,540.

Sen. Chris Lauzen, an Aurora Republican who serves as co-chairman of the Legislative Audit Commission, called the governor's travel an "enormous waste" and noted that it amounted to more than a teacher's annual salary.

Officials had hoped to pass a new budget by May 31, but the Democrats who dominate Illinois government remain deadlocked. State services could be endangered if a budget isn't approved by month's end.

Deputy Gov. Sheila Nix and spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff have denounced the House for not working five days a week on a budget during the overtime session. At the same time Blagojevich has typically arrived at the Springfield airport at noon and departed at 5 p.m. three days a week.

"His work habits in the overtime need to be more reflective of what his administration rhetoric is," said Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago. "That's physically spending day and night here trying to figure this out with us in the General Assembly."

Critics have long targeted the second-term chief executive for absentee governing, both for living in Chicago and for spending little time at the Capitol during the legislative session.

A 2005 Associated Press analysis showed a sharp increase in the Blagojevich administration's use of state aircraft over its predecessor's. That prompted lawmakers' call for Holland's audit, which found commercial flights are cheaper than the state's.

Including the 48-hour layover in Springfield May 30 to June 1, Blagojevich's average stay in town was 9 1/2 hours, from touchdown to liftoff.

Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat who last week took to the House floor to criticize Blagojevich's work habits, said more face time with the governor might end the impasse.

"That's a real reason he has such poor relations with the Legislature and can't get any of his agenda passed," Franks said, "because he doesn't talk to anybody."

The Democratic-controlled House on Wednesday assigned for a committee hearing a Republican-sponsored resolution, introduced May 31, calling on Blagojevich "to reside in Springfield, ready to negotiate" on the budget during the overtime session.

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