Gov. Norm Bangerter often uses state airplanes for personal trips, and he sees nothing wrong with it.
The governor and his aides say the cost of the trips on the two planes are almost always picked up by taxpayers because he is the chief of state 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and business and pleasure cannot be separated."I'm not going to try and justify it; I'm not going to try and defend it, and I'm not going to be apologetic for it," Bangerter said.
The two-term Republican governor makes frequent trips to St. George. He has a home in the suburb of Bloomington, he said, and while in the area he generally does something official and stays a short time.
"I'm sure I've probably gone when I haven't done anything official, but I don't know that that is the case," he said. Of 23 round trips Bangerter took to St. George during the first six years of office, nine were primarily for pleasure.
The Utah Department of Transportation's Division of Aeronautics bills $325 per hour of air time in the 10-seater aircraft and $180 an hour for the six-seater.
Flight logs show the governor is typically dropped off in St. George. The aircraft are flown back to Salt Lake City and then return to St. George for the governor's return trip. The logs also indicate the governor and his family have used the aircraft to fly to other destinations, such as Burley, Idaho, where they attended the birthday party of a family friend.
"I like to think that I put in a pretty darn hard day for the pay I get," Bangerter said. "The question is, as governor, am I entitled to take a weekend and go to St. George? I think I am."
Public Safety Commissioner Doug Bodrero, whose department is charged with protecting the governor and his immediate family, said it is irrelevant whether Bangerter goes to St. George on official or personal business.
"He decides where he goes goes, and I decide how he gets there," Bodrero said. "`He's the governor; he's a target, and we need to be in communication with him."
Besides the department's policy mandating air travel within Utah on state-owned and operated aircraft, the governor's tight schedule requires him to use the planes, said chief of staff Bud Scruggs.