Perry security: $294K, 30 out-of-state trips

By Peggy Fikac

Houston Chronicle

Published: Saturday, Sept. 17 2011 9:39 p.m. MDT

AUSTIN, Texas — At a time when state budget reductions were used to help offset a multibillion-dollar revenue shortfall, taxpayers were billed for more than $294,000 in security detail expenses for out-of-state trips by Gov. Rick Perry or his wife, according to records released by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Destinations included the Bahamas in January for a family vacation and trips to Amsterdam, Madrid and New York by Anita Perry alone — visits that Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said were for economic development.

Perry traveled to locales including New York, Washington, California and Las Vegas for events such as promotion of his anti-Washington book, Fed Up!, speeches, duties related to his then-chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association and meetings with business leaders or potential supporters for his presidential bid.

The state doesn't pay for many of the governor's direct travel costs, his campaign does, but the cost of the security detail is paid by the state. Castle said the security detail is a DPS policy, not from the governor's office.

But Perry has previously said the state should pay those costs because he's "promoting Texas no matter where I go."

Observers said such costs undergo tougher scrutiny in tough budget times. State leaders instituted cost-cutting measures even before this year's legislative session, when lawmakers carved spending in the face of a revenue shortfall.

"There are clearly many legitimate reasons for a governor to travel abroad or even the first lady to travel abroad, and for them to travel around the country. Given that he is a public figure, he does need security," said Mark Jones, professor of political science at Rice University.

"It's just that any expense that he engages in, in tough economic times, is going to merit a little more scrutiny," he said. "It's like what the governor asks of universities and asks of everybody else — a cost-benefit analysis.

"If the benefit outweighs the cost, then great," he said. "If, on the other hand, the state is getting no real benefit from the actual cost, then it has to be looked at a little more carefully."

The security detail tally from Perry's November re-election through July 21 is $294,096.34 for 30 out-of-state trips, according to records released by DPS in response to a public information request by the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle.

The total also includes a bill of $655.91 for a visit planned to Paris, France — a trip that Castle said had been intended for D-Day services but was canceled due to the special legislative session.

DPS won't provide the number of officers traveling with Perry, citing security reasons.

The records also did not include the purpose of the trips. Those were provided by the governor's staff or found through news accounts. The expenses are for such items as food, lodging, airfare, baggage and parking for the security officers.

The tab is paid mainly by the state highway fund, which is fueled by the state gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees, with some from state general revenue.

The expenses released late Thursday pre-date Perry's announcement for president. His expanded travel schedule is sure to raise the cost of security, as occurred under then-Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 race.

Even before he announced, Perry said the state should pay such costs.

"Sure. ... I'm going to be promoting Texas no matter where I go. You can bet I'm going to be talking about what a great business climate we've got in this state, and whether I make the decision to run for the presidency of the United States or whether I decide to stay in Texas and keep what is sometimes referred to as the greatest job in America, I'm going to be promoting Texas," he said in July.

Castle said Friday that DPS "has a policy of providing security for governors and their families everywhere they travel, as they have back several administrations. These policies are determined by DPS and not the governor's office. It's unfortunate that we live in a day and age where security is an issue."

She said it's important that the Perrys "promote Texas as the best place for business and tourism both nationally and internationally."

Perry campaign communications director Ray Sullivan said the campaign doesn't plan to reimburse the state for security expenses.

"We intend to follow precedent set by others since he's Governor of Texas 100% of the time and as such DPS provides security. I do not expect RGA or the campaign to reimburse state security expenses," Sullivan said by email.

Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said, "Most governors have security details, and those are expensive, but one has to wonder what the security threat to a governor is, and whether they need several state policemen and black, window-tinted SUVs in order to do their business."

Jillson noted that for presidential candidates, "at the appropriate time, the Secret Service pulls in ..... and well they should, because that is a much higher-profile position, and the nuts do come out.

"But in the normal course of one's duties as the governor of an American state, it is very difficult to think of examples of governors being inconvenienced, let alone endangered," he said.

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