Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mayday, mayday

The state has lost nearly $17 million over four years because the Illinois Department of Transportation hasn’t billed politicians and businesses the full cost of flying them between Chicago and Springfield, according to a state audit released this week.

The Illinois Auditor General’s office says the rates charged to businesses have been the same since 1981, and the rates charged to state officials and politicians has been the same since ’95. Passengers are only charged for their seat. That means if the plane seats nine but only six people are on board, IDOT eats the cost flying three empty seats. And because the planes are based in Springfield’s airport, they often fly empty to Chicago, pick up the politicians, fly them to Springfield, fly them back to the Windy City and then return empty to the Capitol. Over four years, the cost of operating the air fleet reached nearly $20 million, but IDOT only collected $2.8 million.

The audit points out that the money comes from elsewhere, meaning the Road Fund and the state’s main general fund. IDOT officials say the goal has never been to make money on the air fleet, but the agency agrees to most of the auditor’s recommendations.

The audit calls for a review of ways to be efficient and for better documentation of the reasons and the true costs of operating the flight. Only then can IDOT figure out how many planes and helicopters are needed and whether the agency should adjust its rates.

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