NY Gov. Kathy Hochul flies, leaves taxpayers with $250,000 tab

When Gov. Kathy Hochul headed home after a downstate campaign rally last Aprilshe didn’t drive a car or call an Uber like ordinary New Yorkers.

Instead, she beckoned a Beechcraft King Air 200 from Albany to fly her 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 she took office last year, according to an analysis of newly-released documents by The Post.

“Kathy Hochul’s extravagant flight plans, funded entirely by taxpayers, appear to be even more ridiculous as additional information becomes public,” said Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay (R-Pulaski).

Flights records obtained by The Post through the Freedom of Information Law show that state police added 60 more flights since April to the approximately 200 they have flown on behalf of Hochul since she replaced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo last August.

The taxpayer-provided air support has given her an added boost while raising more than a $34 million war chest amid controversy over alleged preferential treatment for donors, which Hochul denies, ahead of the Nov. 8 election against Republican nominee Rep. Lee Zeldin (R -Suffolk).

NY Post graphic
New York Governor Kathy Hochul
Governor Hochul flew from Albany to Buffalo at taxpayer expense last April.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

“The governor is getting an incredibly sweet deal and basically is incentivized by the lax rules to use state aircraft,” John Kaehny, executive director of the government watchdog Reinvent Albany, told The Post.

Campaign disclosures filed last month show Hochul with $11.7 million left ahead of the Nov. 8 election against the $1.57 million available to Zeldin.

“Corrupt Kathy is flying around like a billionaire, stuffing her campaign coffers with pay-to-play donations,” said GOP state Chair Nick Langworthy, who has previously called for an investigation of her flights.

State police maintain three airplanes (two King Air 200s and a King Air 300) and two helicopters (a Sikorsky S-76 and an aging Bell) on behalf of Hochul, who ethics rules say should only use them for “bona-fide” government business.

“We are using the state plane to allow me to connect with constituents, voters all across the state, as well as citizens. So, our objective is to be a different kind of governor – one that is not locked into Albany or New York City, but there is an entire state out there,” Hochul told reporters on July 20.

But political rivals say she said the quiet part out loud when it comes to leveraging the powers of incumbency while doing her day job.

“It’s common knowledge that lots of politicians attempt to tie in their government work with their political work – but she took it to like a new level,” said state Conservative Party state Chair Gerald Kassar, who is supporting Zeldin.

A spokeswoman later told The Post that Hochul had misspoken about including voter outreach in her official schedule.

The extent to which official state business might have coincided with campaigning remains largely unknown in recent months, in part because her administration has not released public schedules – expected in upcoming weeks – detailing her official activities since the beginning of April.

Sikorsky 76D aircraft operated by state police
A flight on a Sikorsky 76D operated by state police costs taxpayers about $2,500 per hour, according to an aviation expert.
Lockheed Martin

But government watchdogs warn that Hochul, like previous governors, is undoubtedly benefiting from free flights that have helped the once relatively obscure pol build her public profile.

“It’s a huge gift to the incumbent from the taxpayer because the real cost of keeping a helicopter in the air includes all the cost of maintenance, and the pilots and the entire infrastructure that supports that helicopter,” Kaehny said.

Hochul’s campaign reimbursed the state about $11,000 months ago following reports of her mixing government and political business 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, visits all 62 counties every year, and travels across the state to deliver for New Yorkers because it’s her job. All aircraft use is approved by counsel and follows the guidance clearly outlined in the publicly available aircraft use policy,” spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said in an email.

The April 22 flight to Buffalo after a campaign event with labor leaders on Long Island qualified as official state business, according to her administration, along with other controversial trips like a Sept. 12 flights from New York City to watch the Buffalo Bills.

“A governor is allowed to go home,” Hochul griped July 20 while dismissing criticism.

State aircraft have moved around the state at least 60 times in recent months for numerous bill signings, press conferences, and events touting state policies and funding for local communities as far-flung as Long Island, Buffalo, Plattsburgh and Binghamton.

Beechcraft King Air 200.
Hochul flew in a Beechcraft King Air 200.

The flight logs of four state aircraft – the three airplanes and a Sikorsky chopper – covering April 1 through July 8 were released to The Post under the Freedom of Information Act Law. Records for the Bell helicopter were not available by publication time.

The aircraft were occasionally used for other purposes like transporting state prisoners although the lion’s share of their time in the sky appears to be taking Hochul around the Empire State at public expense.

“It’s easy for her, it’s coming out of our pockets! If she had to pay for it, she wouldn’t fly to these things,” Otto Nunez told The Post in mid-July while pumping $130 of gas into his Chevy Express work van at a Queens BP station.

A gallon of gas costs about $3.40 in New York state last August when Hochul became governor last August. That price jumped to $4.37 in April before reaching 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 roughly $2,500 per hour to operate while airplanes like the King Air 350 – which state police took from the New York Power Authority earlier this year – cost about half that amount, an aviation expert told The Post.

At those rates, taxpayers are stuck with more than $275,000 in costs associated with 50 hours worth of helicopter flights – and 125 hours more by airplane – since the two-term lieutenant governor replaced disgraced ex-Gov. Cuomo last August, records show.

The time in the sky includes instances when state aircraft have had to be repositioned from their home base in Albany in order to accommodate gubernatorial travel between other cities.

Hochul steps out of helicopter
Hochul’s flight habits have cost taxpayers more than $250,000.
Matthew McDermott

Her campaign has reimbursed taxpayers $4,286.17 for an April 20 flight related to several events in the Syracuse area that included taping 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 costs of her flights as governor have easily exceeded $250,000.

“She’s obviously more concerned about her own personal convenience than the real-world cost to New Yorkers and the financial pressures they’re facing,” Barclay said in the statement.

Hochul is hardly the first governor to face scrutiny over her travel on the public dime.

Her predecessor faced criticism for his use of state aircraft, including chopper flights to his girlfriend’s residence in Westchester.

“This should enrage every taxpayer who is struggling under crushing inflation but is forced to foot the bill for her luxe lifestyle. Voters are ready to deliver a reckoning this November,” he added.

Former Republican Gov. George Pataki also got guff after leveraging attacks on how then-Gov. Mario Cuomo (father to Andrew) used state aircraft 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


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