State, Local Officials Get Free Airport Parking

State, Local Officials Get Free Airport Parking

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Paying to park at Utah's largest airport can be a costly experience -- but not for members of the state's congressional delegation or many Salt Lake City and county officials, who park for free.

Salt Lake City International Airport gives parking privileges to congressional office holders, their staff, members of the Salt Lake City Council, city Mayor Rocky Anderson, the county council, as well as members of the airport's board of directors, many city department heads, and other select individuals, airport officials said.

The perk is given for both business and personal travel, although most who receive it say they only use it for business purposes. It's unclear how long parking privileges have been in place.

"I've been here 17 years, and it has been here at least that long," says airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann.

Gann said the list of free parking passes used to be longer, but was cut back amid airport expansion projects. Offering the benefit -- and deciding who gets it -- is a decision left to airport administrators, she said.

Free parking for anything other than business is a perk public officials shouldn't have, says Anthony Musci, chairman of the watchdog group Common Cause of Utah.

"It's wrong, but it's not capital murder, either. It does elevate public officials above the rest of the citizenry," Musci says. "On principle it is wrong, and I can't understand why any politician receives a perk like this for personal travel."

Each of Utah's five congressional members, who make almost weekly trips to Washington, D.C., say they were offered the parking without requesting it. None could remember having used it for personal travel.

` "It's a matter of convenience, but we would be happy to pay for it as well. It would just come out of our regular budget," said Scott Parker, chief of staff to Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

Mary Jane Collipriest, press secretary to Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said that Bennett believes the free parking pass "is a better alternative than billing the taxpayer to reimburse him for his parking or having staff members drive him to and from the airport."

City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who has banned city employees from accepting any gifts, has in the past acknowledged using the privilege for some personal travel, as have some city council members.

City employees who work at the airport are also given free parking, as are some employees of federal agencies located there. Each of the airport's retail tenants receives some parking access.

Officials also give free parking to news media when they are covering a news event at the airport, Gann said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) 1

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