Members of the S.C. General Assembly are questioning how one of its own chose to use the state's airplane this week, a trip that cost taxpayers more than $6,000.
Rep. Bill Chumley (R-Spartanburg, Greenville) used the airplane Wednesday to fly in an expert witness from Washington, D.C., to testify in support of Chumley's health care nullification bill which is currently before the S.C. House Judiciary Committee.
On Thursday, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) requested an advisory opinion from the S.C. House Ethics Committee on whether Chumley's actions were appropriate.
A call to an attorney working on behalf of the ethics committee wasn't returned as of this posting.
Also on Thursday, S.C. Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee County) called for grounding the state's aircraft because what he called years of misuse by state lawmakers. Peeler said he'll introduce a bill that would get rid of the state's two planes, and he said politicians could save taxpayers a lot of money by flying commercial.
The plane used this week, a King Air C90 known as "Palmetto 2," left Columbia Metropolitan airport Wednesday morning and flew to a private airport in Manassas, Virginia, near D.C. where it picked up Professor Walt Williams of George Mason University, according to online records provided by the S.C. Aeronautics Commission.
Williams, who's also an author, a cable network commentator and a sometimes-fill-in host for Rush Limbaugh, testified in support of Chumley's bill during a committee hearing Wednesday morning, and then took Palmetto 2 back to Manassas.
The total trip will cost taxpayers $6,390, according to the aeronautics commission's director Paul Werts.
"I'd do it again tomorrow [if I had to]," said Chumley when reached by phone late Wednesday afternoon.
Using the state plane to pick up the professor was an "excellent use of taxpayer money," according to Chumley who said the plane is meant to "help do the people's business."
In this case, Chumley says fighting the Affordable Care Act is a worthy cause, and using an expert witness to defend Chumley's proposed bill is one way to help "stop a trillion dollar monstrosity that is Obamacare," he said.
Chumley calls the health care reform unconstitutional, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld it as constitutional.
S.C. House Majority Leader Rep. Bruce Bannister (R-Greenville) said while lawmakers do have the right to use the plane for official state business, he said he's never seen a legislator use the aircraft to fly in witnesses to testify about legislation.
When asked if he would do it, Bannister answered "no."
The General Assembly appropriates around $488,000 annually for the operation of the two planes it owns.