Flying the Lt. Governor Across the State for a Coin Flip Sure Seems Like a Cavalier Use of Taxpayer Resources

Gov. Doug Burgum speaks at a ceremony at the Alerus Center to welcome home members of the North Dakota National Guard. (Herald photo/Sam Easter)

Last year Governor Doug Burgum found himself mired in criticism from my self and others stemming from his decision to accept a roughly $40,000 trip to the Super Bowl paid for by Xcel Energy, one of the largest utilities operating in our state (Burgum paid his own travel expenses and ultimately reimbursed Xcel for the trip).

That situation called into question Burgum’s discretion when it comes to what behavior is appropriate for someone in his office. So much so that State Auditor Josh Gallion, also a Republican, launched an investigation into the finances of the Governor’s office (something which has earned him enmity from some Republicans in the state).

Today my colleague John Hageman has some details of that review, and so far they aren’t flattering for Burgum’s office.

For one thing, per Hageman’s numbers, the use of state airplanes for travel was up more than 20 percent during the first year of Burgum’s time in office as compared to the heaviest year of use by his predecessor Jack Dalrymple.

And then there’s this:

In September, a DOT-owned plane picked up Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford in his hometown of Watford City, along with his wife and son, to fly to Grand Forks for the University of North Dakota’s Potato Bowl football game. Nowatzki said Sanford and his family were invited by the university to attend the game with President Mark Kennedy and conduct the ceremonial coin toss beforehand.

It is the policy of the Department of Transportation that these airplanes be used only for official business. But that policy, as Hageman notes, doesn’t define what is and is not official business.

Is a coin flip at a football game official business? And even if it is, should that sort of trivial official duty necessitate a private flight across the state?

Color me dubious.

What I’m told is that Gallion will likely have his audit completed in time for a meeting of the Legislature’s Audit and Fiscal Review Committee some time in June. The specific date hasn’t been set yet.

I have a feeling, based on conversations I’ve had with lawmakers and others in state government, that the audit will make some headlines.

UPDATE: Hageman adds this on Twitter:


Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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