Ethics Board: Public Must Fund Cuomo’s Air Commute

ALBANY (AP) -

New York’s ethics board says state taxpayers must continue to pay when Gov. Andrew Cuomo uses state helicopters to commute to and from his Westchester County home.

The opinion by the Joint Commission on Public Integrity says, however, that Cuomo would have to reimburse the state if he uses aircraft to commute daily, or if he uses even part of the trip to attend a political fundraiser. Cuomo has said he doesn’t use state aircraft to or from fundraisers and won’t use aircrafts for daily commuting.

The report states that the cost of a state police drive to and from Westchester is about $50. The cost of a charter flight is more than $1,000 each way.

The Associated Press reported in August 2011 that Cuomo started or finished more than a dozen trips to Albany, New York City and other cities statewide in his first months in office, along with some trips only between Albany and Westchester. State records show that Cuomo continues to use state aircraft in trips to and from his house.

State aircraft must then take a “dead head” flight from the Westchester airport to Albany, where it must be stored when not in flight.

In 2011, Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto defended the trips as clearly appropriate. He said Cuomo’s counsel and his chief of staff at the time approved the flights and Cuomo didn’t need to seek an opinion from the ethics board that operated at the time.

“I am troubled by the near-blank check issued by JCOPE to Gov. Cuomo,” said former JCOPE commissioner Ravi Batra, who resigned last year, saying JCOPE lacked political independence from Cuomo. “This is not JCOPE’s finest hour.”