Controversy over state’s new plane delays confirmation of a top administration official

By Alexander Mallin

While Gov. Jay Nixon was breaking in the state’s new airplane, controversy surrounding the administration’s purchase of the $5.6 million plane stalled confirmation of one of the governor’s top administration officials.

A Senate confirmation vote on the governor’s choice for commissioner of administration was delayed after senators objected to the administration’s purchase without informing budget officials in the legislature.

The debate began in the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee hearing on Wednesday after committee members questioned Doug Nelson, Nixon’s choice for commissioner of administration, about the plane. Nixon appointed Nelson to the position last year, but his nomination still requires approval by the state Senate before the end of the month.

During the committee hearing, Nelson said there was nothing he could have done to stop the purchase of the plane. Even though the committee endorsed the nomination on Wednesday, objections from Senate members delayed a full Senate vote the next day.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said lawmakers learned about the purchase just a week earlier. State senators are now holding up Nelson’s nomination until they get more answers about how the plane was paid for.

“This is an issue of essentially either failing to recognize — or simply not caring about — the General Assembly’s role in how the public’s money is spent,” said Schaefer, who had originally sponsored Nelson’s confirmation.

The plane was purchased by the Missouri State Highway Patrol with money from the agency’s equipment fund that covers expenses such as troopers’ cars. The governor was the only state official reported to have used the aircraft in it’s first two days of state possession.

The Associated Press reported the Patrol bought the plane in December, but the Patrol did not receive the plane until late January.

The governor’s office declined any comment about the matter, refusing to even confirm the governor’s use or purpose of his trips. Nixon also refused to answer any questions from reporters when he was seen exiting the aircraft on Thursday.