As Governor Kathy Hochul after a Downstate campaign rally last AprilShe didn’t drive or call Uber like ordinary New Yorkers.
Instead, she waved a Beechcraft King Air 200 from Albany to fly it 400 miles west to Buffalo — at taxpayer expense.
The flight was part of the high-flying travel habits Hochul has maintained that have cost the public more than $250,000 since taking office last year, according to an analysis of newly released documents by The Post.
“Kathy Hochul’s extravagant flight plans, funded entirely by taxpayers, seem even more ridiculous as additional information is released,” said Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay (R-Pulaski).
Flight records obtained by The Post through the Freedom of Information Act show that since April, state police have added 60 more flights to the approximately 200 they have flown on behalf of Hochul since replacing the ex-government. Andrew Cuomo last August.
Taxpayer-provided air support has given it an extra boost while raising more than $34 million in war chests amid controversy over alleged preferential treatment for donors who support Hochul ahead of the Nov. 8 election against Republican nominee Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Suffolk).
“The governor gets an incredibly sweet deal and is basically encouraged by the lax rules to use state planes,” John Kaehny, executive director of government oversight Reinvent Albany, told The Post.
Campaign disclosures filed last month show Hochul has $11.7 million left before the Nov. 8 election, versus the $1.57 million available to Zeldin.
“Corrupt Kathy flies around like a billionaire fundraising her campaign coffers with pay-to-play donations,” said GOP state chairman Nick Langworthy, who previously called for an investigation into her flights.
The state police maintain three planes (two King Air 200s and one King Air 300) and two helicopters (a Sikorsky S-76 and an aging Bell) on behalf of Hochul, who, according to ethics rules, should only use them for “bona fide” government business.
“We use the state plane to allow me to connect with voters, voters across the state, and citizens. So our goal is to be a different kind of governor — one that’s not locked up in Albany or New York City, but has an entire state out there,” Hochul told reporters on July 20.
But political rivals say she said the soft part out loud about using the incumbent’s powers while going about her day-to-day work.
“It is well known that many politicians try to combine their government work with their political work – but she has taken it to a new level,” said Conservative Party national leader Gerald Kassar, who supports Zeldin.
A spokeswoman later told The Post that Hochul made the wrong move to include voter work in her official schedule.
The extent to which official affairs of state may have coincided with the election campaign has remained largely unknown in recent months, partly because her government has failed to release public timetables – which are expected in the coming weeks – in which her official activities have been since early April are listed.
But government watchdogs warn that like previous governors, Hochul is undoubtedly benefiting from free flights, which have helped the once relatively obscure pole build its public profile.
“It’s a huge gift from the taxpayer to the incumbent because the true cost of keeping a helicopter in the air includes all the costs of maintenance, the pilots, and all of the infrastructure that supports that helicopter,” Kaehny said.
Hochul’s campaign reimbursed the state about $11,000 months ago after receiving reports it was mixing government and politics after flying to places like New York City.
But her administration has defended her other trips at taxpayer expense.
“Governor Hochul works around the clock, visiting all 62 counties every year and traveling across the state delivering for New Yorkers because it’s her job. All use of aircraft is authorized by legal counsel and follows the instructions clearly outlined in the publicly available Airplane Use Policy,” spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said in an email.
The April 22 flight to Buffalo following a campaign rally with union leaders on Long Island was classified as an official matter of state, according to her administration, along with other controversial trips such as a September 12 flight from New York City to see the Buffalo Bills.
“A governor can go home,” Hochul complained on July 20, dismissing the criticism.
State planes have flown across the state at least 60 times in recent months to sign numerous bills, press conferences and events touting state policies and funding for local communities in areas as far away as Long Island, Buffalo, Plattsburgh and Binghamton .
The flight logs of four state aircraft – the three planes and one Sikorsky helicopter – from April 1 to July 8 were released to The Post under the Freedom of Information Act. Recordings for the Bell helicopter were unavailable at the time of publication.
The planes were occasionally used for other purposes such as transporting state prisoners, although the lion’s share of their time in the skies appears to be taking hochul at public expense through the Empire State.
“It’s easy for them, it comes out of our pockets! If she had to pay for it, she wouldn’t fly to those things,” Otto Nunez told the Post in mid-July while pumping $130 gas into his Chevy Express work truck at a BP gas station in Queens.
Gasoline was about $3.40 a gallon in upstate New York last August when Hochul became governor last August. That price rose to $4.37 in April before hitting an all-time high of $5.23 in June despite a temporary suspension of state taxes approved by Albany Democrats.
A Sikorsky S76-D costs about $2,500 an hour to operate, while planes like the King Air 350 – which state police acquired from the New York Power Authority earlier this year – cost about half that amount, an aviation expert said Post.
At those rates, taxpayers are stuck with more than $275,000 in costs associated with 50 hours worth of helicopter trips — and 125 more hours by plane — since the two-year lieutenant governor replaced the disgraced ex-governor. Cuomo last August, records show.
Time in the sky includes instances where state aircraft have had to be repositioned from their home base in Albany to allow for gubernatorial travel between other cities.
Her campaign has reimbursed taxpayers $4,286.17 for an April 20 flight related to several events in the Syracuse area, including the taping of an interview with Univision that aired three days later, according to her administration.
That money, along with the nearly $11,000 previously returned to taxpayers, leaves plenty of room for a conservative estimate that the total cost of her flights as governor easily exceeded $250,000.
“She’s obviously more concerned about her own personal convenience than the real cost to New Yorkers and the financial pressures they face,” Barclay said in the statement.
Hochul is hardly the first governor to come under scrutiny for her public trip.
Her predecessor was criticized for his use of state aircraft, including helicopter flights to his girlfriend’s Westchester home.
“This should infuriate any taxpayer struggling under crushing inflation but forced to foot the bill for their luxurious lifestyle. Voters are ready to give an account this November,” he added.
Former Republican Gov. George Pataki also became enraged after exploiting attacks on it, like the then-governor. Mario Cuomo (father of Andrew) used state planes in Pataki’s successful 1994 campaign against the three-term incumbent.
Elected officials in states as diverse as Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky and South Dakota have faced similar criticism in recent years.
Some New York Republicans point to Hochul’s use of state aircraft while attacking her personal honesty and record as governor since replacing Cuomo amid vows to make state government more ethical and transparent.
— Additional reporting by Desheania Andrews
https://nypost.com/2022/08/03/ny-gov-kathy-hochul-flies-leaves-taxpayers-with-250000-tab/ New York Gov. Kathy Hochul flies, leaving taxpayers a $250,000 bill