Texans' gas taxes bankroll Rick Perry's self-promotion, foreign travel, and body guards
By PEGGY FIKAC
AUSTIN — Taxpayers spent close to $1 million in security costs for 23 foreign trips by GOP Gov. Rick Perry and his wife over seven years, according to records obtained under the Public Information Act by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.
The actual security tab for 2004-2010 is higher than the $928,477.71 listed in records provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which includes the Executive Protection Bureau, for trips made by the Perrys, together or separately.
The security cost for five additional foreign trips made in 2006-2007 by Perry or his wife, Anita, could not be obtained. DPS said it routinely destroys travel records after three years. Expenses for older trips included in the tally previously had been obtained by the Chronicle and Express-News.
The newspapers submitted their latest request for information on trip expenses Aug. 23, but did not receive the records until Wednesday.
The state does not pay for many of the governor's direct travel costs. The cost of the security detail, however, is paid primarily from the state highway fund, which is fueled by the state gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees.
Perry, Texas' longest-serving governor, has made far more foreign trips than his predecessors. Former governors George W. Bush and the late Ann Richards traveled to Mexico. Bush also made a much noted trip to Israel, preceded by a stop in Italy, before launching his presidential campaign.
Political analysts said it is not unusual for governors to travel outside the country, particularly for economic development. Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said it is an important part of the job. Security details, however, are a "relatively new thing," Jillson said.
"There are lots of Texans who are suffering economic hardships. The state budget is out of whack. One way that a governor might show a sensitivity to this and awareness of it, and a determination to resolve it, is to pull in the purse-strings a little bit on his own staff and his own travel budget and the size of his security detail," Jillson said.
Bill White attacks
Democratic candidate for governor Bill White's campaign has zeroed in on Perry's travel as part of its storyline that Perry is a part-time governor who does not spend enough time attending to Texas' business.
"He's broken records for foreign travel. The question is, what are we really getting out of this? What's in it for taxpayers? Rick Perry likes to fly around the country and fly around the world promoting himself," White spokeswoman Katy Bacon said.
Perry's deputy chief of staff, Kathy Walt, said the value of the travel is clear.
"Texas jobs depend on selling Texas-made goods and services to the world. It makes good business sense for state and local government and business leaders to travel to foreign markets in an effort to further expand business opportunity and create more jobs in Texas," Walt said
She call Anita Perry a "strong ambassador for the state."
Where they have traveled
University of Texas at Austin political scientist Bruce Buchanan did not see a major issue for Perry in the matter, particularly since most of the trips were for economic development.
"The governor can't be expected to avoid all trips that might require some security coverage just because he's governor," Buchanan said. "Bottom line, this particular category does not look to me like a major violation of any kind of ethical code."
The Perrys have traveled together to the Bahamas, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, Grand Cayman, Israel twice - once in conjunction with a trip to Jordan - France and Sweden, and China.
Perry also has traveled to Mexico five times, Iraq three times, Afghanistan, Turkey, and to Taiwan and Korea in conjunction with the China trip. Mrs. Perry has traveled to England three times, once in conjunction with a trip to Slovakia, Mexico, Japan twice, Germany twice, Malta, Italy and France, the Czech Republic, Azerbaijan (after France and Sweden with Perry), Canada, Spain, and Brazil and Argentina.
The governor's office cited several purposes for the trips, including business recruitment, promoting trade and investment, promoting Texas as a tourist destination or attending official functions, such as Mexican presidential inauguration activities. Most trips fell into such categories.
The 2006 Grand Cayman trip was a vacation; Perry went to Turkey for the Bilderberg conference; and he received awards and met with dignitaries on the two trips to Israel. The much-reported 2004 trip to the Bahamas with campaign donors was described as an "education policy retreat."
Not all details disclosed
Perry's trips to Iraq and Afghanistan were to visit troops. They did not carry state security costs because the secret service did the job, according to DPS.
The DPS releases security expense totals in broad categories, including base pay for officers, overtime, airfare, hotels, car rental and other ground transportation, and meals or other expenses.
Citing security concerns, DPS does not release travel vouchers with spending details or the number of officers on particular trips.
Hearst Newspapers and Cox Texas Newspapers have sued for access to the vouchers, saying they are public information and their release would not be a security threat. Lower courts have ruled for the newspapers and the case is before the Texas Supreme Court.
Direct expenses for Perry on the trips largely have been covered by his campaign or a non-profit corporation that gets funding from corporations, organizations and individuals and works with Perry's office to promote economic development. Other entities, such as the travel industry, another government or a company, sometimes pick up the tab. Walt said tourism co-operative fees, which she said are paid voluntarily by communities to promote themselves as travel destinations, mostly have paid for Mrs. Perry's tourism promotion travel.
Of some $340,246.79 in direct travel expenses for the Perrys, just $3,539.41 was paid by the state.
© 2010 Houston Chronicle: www.chron.com
To search TTC News Archives click
To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click