Utah Gov. defends personal, political use of SUV

Utah Gov. defends personal, political use of SUV

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is defending the use of his government vehicle to travel to political events and go on personal trips.

Utah taxpayers foot the bill for his fuel costs, more than $5,000 a year, The Salt Lake Tribune reported in Saturday's editions.

As lieutenant governor, Herbert used his SUV to travel to a number of Republican county conventions last year and recently took a family trip to Bear Lake.

Herbert said he's abiding by a law that requires the state to provide "a vehicle for official and personal use" to the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state auditor and treasurer.

"We follow the law and one of the benefits ... they give you is a vehicle for your government service," Herbert said. "There is a cost to doing business. There is a cost to government. My job is to make it efficient as we can and still provide the services people expect."

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said he pays for his own gas when he uses his 2005 Dodge Durango for personal or political trips.

"In those cases I'm always way careful to fill it up with gas from a different card," he said. "I don't have to, but taxpayers are paying for it and sometimes I just feel responsible. ... It's a nice benefit. I don't want to abuse it."

Herbert traded in his Chevrolet Suburban last year for a hybrid 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe, raising his average mileage from about 17 miles per gallon to close to 20 miles per gallon.

The 170,000 miles he logged as lieutenant governor were more than Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Shurtleff combined during that same 4 1/2-year period. And he's proud of it.

"The governor ought to be accessible," Herbert told the newspaper.

"You've got to be out on Main Street, Utah, ascertaining the issues, listening to the people, having dialogues and discussions, making sure there is not the perception that the only people that talk to him are lobbyists, high-priced business people, people who have special access that the rest of the people don't."

Herbert traveled, on average, more than 38,500 miles per year since taking office in 2005, state records show.

"I believe that state government -- and most importantly your governor -- should be accessible to the people," Herbert said in his inaugural speech last week. "To this end, I fully intend to continue to travel and meet with people throughout this state from all walks of life."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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