GOP lawmakers want state’s air fleet grounded
SPRINGFIELD — When top brass at the Illinois Department of Corrections wanted to tour three downstate prisons last week, they boarded a taxpayer-owned helicopter and spent the day in the air.
Corrections’ chief S.A. Godinez and a handful of his subordinates made stops at lock-ups in Pinckneyville, Sumner and Robinson to view the daily operations of the facilities they administer.
“The director speaks to staff and inmates during these visits, as he and DOC staff continually seek ways to advance the department’s mission of managing safe and secure facilities,” said Corrections’ spokeswoman Stacey Solano.
The practice of using one of the state’s three helicopters to make future prison visits, however, would end under at least five different legislative measures being pushed by Republican lawmakers.
The most recent addition to the GOP-led effort to sell off the state’s fleet of airplanes and choppers came last week when state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, filed Senate Bill 3559.
The measure, like others pending in the General Assembly, aims to save an estimated $7 million annually by grounding the state’s fleet of 16 aircraft.
GOP lawmakers believe the state could get a one-time infusion of $22 million by selling the aircraft.
Rezin’s main targets in pursuing the proposed law are her fellow lawmakers, who use state planes to travel between Chicago and Springfield.
“I do not feel the state should be paying to fly elected officials back and forth between Chicago and Springfield,” said Rezin, who said she hasn’t ridden in the planes.
But, her measure – as well as those floated by Republican state Reps. Bill Mitchell of Forsyth and Joe Sosnowski of Rockford – also would affect state operations like those at the Department of Corrections.
Solano said it is “rare” for prison staffers to use the state aircraft for visits. But, she said the agency would cope if the planes and helicopters were eliminated.
“Staff would make and typically do make these visits by car or van,” Solano said.
None of the proposals introduced in the current General Assembly have made it to the full House or Senate for a vote.
Last year, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, questioned whether a similar proposal by Rezin would actually save taxpayer dollars.
He suggested it may cost less to use state-owned aircraft than to reimburse employees for ground travel and associated costs. “It wouldn’t be good if it costs actually more,” Cullerton told members of a Senate panel in March.
Rezin says it makes sense to her that the cash-strapped state cannot afford the planes, especially to help lawmakers commute to work.
“I think we’ve gone overboard and taxpayers shouldn’t be charged for it,” Rezin said.
In addition to Rezin’s most recent proposal, other legislation aimed at selling off the state aircraft fleet includes: Senate Bill 1569 and House Bills 1411, 2983 and 4019.