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Our View: Ground fleet 
to air out state 
budget tactics

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012 9:29 a.m. CDT

Anytime you can save $7 million a year in a deadbeat state like Illinois, you should jump at the chance, right?

That’s the reaction hoped for by state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, who filed a bill recently to force the grounding of Illinois’ 13 small passenger planes and three helicopters – at least those not designated for emergency use.

The budget to operate the “Air Illinois” fleet this fiscal year is $7 million, which is $1 million higher than last fiscal year.

State officials, including Gov. Pat Quinn, use state planes routinely in their travels.

Mitchell said, “We have the largest air fleet of all the 50 states ... and yet it’s still running, bringing bureaucrats, state legislators and the governor mainly from Chicago to Springfield and all around the state.”

When the state owes late bills that approach $8.5 billion, “Air Illinois” does seem like a waste of tax dollars and an affront to vendors who must wait months to be paid for services already rendered.

The symbolic gesture of grounding state-owned aircraft might make a larger point to the officials who use them.

While they commute from Chicago to Springfield by rail or automobile, they might start to realize the inconvenience that vendors experience when the state delays its payments to them.

Loss of the use of state-funded airplanes could be a motivation for former state frequent fliers to spend more time working on Illinois’ monumental financial problems, which haven’t improved much since last year’s big income tax hike.

“Air Illinois” has long been a target for Mitchell. He previously filed legislation to put the whole fleet on the auction block. That went nowhere – likely the same fate for his latest bill. After all, the Chicago Democrats who run state government wouldn’t want to give up the use of state airplanes, would they?

But proposals such as Mitchell’s shine a spotlight at areas where state politicians could impose financial self-discipline but refuse to do so.

The governor and others should be made to feel the pain of the state’s lousy economy.

We say ground the planes; take the train.

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