CLEVELAND -- Gov. John Kasich is fast becoming a frequent flyer and it's happening on the taxpayers' dime.
The governor has come under attack for using state planes to excess, especially when he's asking taxpayers to tighten their belts in these tough economic times.
A Channel 3 News review of Kasich's travels by state plane shows that he is on pace to quadruple the amount of money that his predecessor, former Gov. Ted Strickland, spent on state planes in his last year in office.
"Gov. Kasich is using the state plane as a taxi cab and saying taxpayers and costs be damned," said Dale Butland of Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank in Columbus.
In the first six months of this year, Channel 3 News found that Kasich took 38 trips on state planes at a cost of more than $53,000. If you add 12 trips by staff, that $53,000 jumps to more than $64,000.
By comparison, Strickland flew 17 times in state planes in all of 2010 at a cost to taxpayers of about $27,000.
"We are asking sacrifices to be made by school districts, to be made by local governments, and we need to be making those sacrifices too, and we can't be overusing state property," State Representative Matt Lundy said.
During the gubernatorial campaign last year, Kasich's own press secretary, Rob Nichols, blasted Strickland for his use of state planes, calling it wasted money. Nichols is quoted as saying "...could the guy (Strickland) do something more arrogant...there needs to be a closer review of whether the plane's cost can even still be justified..."
Channel 3 News asked to speak with Kasich, but Nichols said he spoke for the Governor. He now defends the use of the state plane, saying he and the governor now understand what a valuable tool it is for getting around Ohio quickly. Nichols said the governor needs to travel to all corners of the state to address the many problems that he says Strickland ignored.
Critics agree Kasich's schedule is demanding, but no more so than previous govenors.
"All governors have been active, not just John Kasich and yet they somehow found a way to get their jobs done without abusing state planes," Butland said. "I think Kasich has gotten use to a very lavish lifestyle, making millions on Wall Street."
On the day Kasich announced he reached a deal with casino developers, he flew from Columbus to Cleveland and then from Cleveland to Cincinnati -- at a cost of about $1,400. When asked why Kasich didn't stay in Columbus to make the announcement or simply issue a press release, Nichols said the casino deals are important job development projects.
Butland said the projects would not be impacted based on where the governor made the announcement. At a time when he's cut funding to schools and local governments, Butland feels Kasich isn't practicing what he preaches.
"This (the planes) is just the latest example of the governor's raging hypocrisy," Butland said.
Nichols said a further review of state plane use is not necessary.