Gregoire to share planes more

The governor is keeping her planes, but she will have to share them more frequently with various state agencies.

That’s the plan spelled out in the state budget that legislators approved, a departure from an earlier proposal to sell seven- and eight-passenger planes owned by the Washington State Patrol.

Senate Democrats suggested that selling the aircraft, which are used by Gov. Chris Gregoire and stationed at the Olympia Regional Airport, would have saved $1.7 million.

But chartering private flights to be used at a moment’s notice would have cost more and grounded some special missions, according to the State Patrol.

“It doesn’t happen very often, but when Pend Oreille County has some trouble and they need to help, the SWAT team is a long ways away,” patrol Capt. Jeff DeVere said.

Lawmakers, working to cut $4 billion in spending to meet a $31.4 billion budget, ordered the Department of Natural Resources to sell its eight-passenger plane, and they took $1.4 million from the patrol’s budget for the King Air planes.

“We didn’t necessarily need to have three, and we didn’t need to have them in more than one location,” Gregoire said. She said the state will study how well the compromise allows the DNR to scout wildfires, the State Patrol to move quickly, and Gregoire’s Cabinet to reach all corners of the state.

Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark, the leader of the Department of Natural Resources, was not pleased about losing his agency’s plane.

“Disposing of this asset in the face of more wildfires and climate-change-related storms is the opposite direction that the state should be headed with its emergency-response infrastructure,” agency spokesman Aaron Toso said. “The net savings from the disposal of this aircraft will be less than the amount of money it would take to replace a home lost in a fire.”

The governor said she drives whenever possible, but for emergencies the planes are invaluable. She cited the winter storms that pummeled Spokane this year while she was visiting troops in Iraq. Lt. Gov. Brad Owen flew in to inspect the situation.

“You couldn’t get over the pass, and you couldn’t get a commercial flight, and we had to get to Spokane. We relied on the State Patrol plane,” Gregoire said.