Editor's note: This story is the second of a two-part series about the Texas governor's living accommodations. On Monday, the Tribune looked at the renovation of the fire-damaged historic Governor's Mansion.
They said Perry, first elected to state office in 1984, has done some lavish living himself — particularly at his rental mansion in West Austin.
The Texas Tribune has added up the state-paid expenses to lease and maintain Perry’s temporary home in Estates Above Lost Creek, outside the state capital. The rent alone for the property, from October 2007 to now, has hit almost $500,000. Add in utilities, maintenance, phone service and incidentals and the total state spending at the mansion has cost about $800,000 so far, government records and interviews indicate.
Private spending from state campaign funds, used for receptions, food, cable television and other expenses, averages about $3,000 a month, officials say.
Perry moved into the temporary living quarters in late 2007 so that repairs could be made to the historic Texas Governor’s Mansion, a block south of the Capitol. But an arsonist set fire to the mansion in June 2008 and left the building badly damaged. That made Perry’s stay in the rental mansion stretch out far longer — and cost much more — than originally intended.
A careful renovation of the historic mansion, saved from ruin, is expected to be complete by June 2012.
In an interview last year, Perry said security concerns drove the decision to relocate to an exclusive, gated community, but he signaled a willingness to go somewhere else if that’s what lawmakers wanted.
“I’ll pull the U-Haul up and we’ll go live somewhere else,” Perry said in an interview with Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith. “It will be at the directive of the Legislature.”
Perry could never have anticipated the fire that kept him away from the mansion where every governor has lived since 1856. But his temporary digs continue to provide fodder for his critics, particularly since Perry has begun to put high living by members of Congress into the cross hairs of his presidential campaign.
“They’ve been living lavishly off the taxpayers,” Perry told a town-hall audience in New Hampshire last week.
The campaign of leading Republican candidate Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, described the attacks as hypocritical.
“Why is Rick Perry attacking Rick Perry,” asked a news release from the Romney campaign, which provided links to news stories about the mansion.
Perry has also taken fire from the left. Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller, who in 2010 offered to rent Perry a double-wide trailer for a dollar a year, said the governor should live more like most Texans do.
“I'm not saying we need to put him in a Motel 6. His lifestyle should mirror what's going on with jobs in this state,” she said. “Get a nice place. I think he could find one for much, much less than $9,000 or $10,000 a month.”
Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said Texas lawmakers "determined and approved funding for a temporary residence that meets all necessary security considerations while the mansion is being restored."
The five-bedroom, seven-bath mansion has three dining rooms, a gourmet kitchen and pecan-wood floors that offer “luxurious Texas styling,” according to the old real estate listing. It sits on 3.3 acres and has 6,386 square feet of indoor space, some of it used by security agents who guard the property 24 hours a day.
Expenditures included a $700 clothes rack, $1,001.46 for curtains from Neiman Marcus, a $1,000 "emergency repair" of a filtered ice machine, about $200 a month for pool cleaning and a little more than $70 for a two-year subscription to Food & Wine magazine. Last year the magazine subscription expired and was not renewed.
The tab for electricity runs about $730 a month, and taxpayers have spent about $120 a month on average on water.
The Tribune’s review of the mansion expenditures showed a huge spike in water use beginning in the summer of 2010, with average usage of more than 60,000 gallons a month — until a leak was discovered. At its high point in August, a time of crippling drought, the water use hit 88,000 gallons. That’s about 10 times the average in Austin.
“The first family and State Preservation Board have worked to conserve water by voluntarily restricting the watering schedule,” said Castle, the Perry spokeswoman. “A water leak was discovered this summer and repaired immediately after it was identified, an expense covered by the homeowners, not the state.”
Castle also noted that the monthly lease has dropped from $9,900 to $8,500 a month, and she said the Perrys have helped cut back on expenses to be “good stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.”
While the state won’t have to pay rent at the historic mansion, it won’t be free. Before the fire, it cost more than $27,000 a month to operate, according to figures provided by the governor's office. Dealey Herndon, who is overseeing the restoration of the Governor’s Mansion, said green features such as a geothermal heat pump and a solar water heater will drive operating costs down.
“It will just be a matter of measuring that when the time comes. It’s certainly got to be less,” Herndon said. “The governor and first lady didn’t think they would be out of this house for more than a year. … It’s been unfortunate for everybody that the fire happened and it’s been extended for so long.”