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Perry Trips, Abbott Campaign Leave Texas Taxpayers With Big Bills

Gov. Rick Perry's latest cross-country campaign to lure out-of-state business to Texas and Attorney General Greg Abbott's gubernatorial campaign are costing taxpayers thousands in security bills.

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While chasing corporate relocations and campaigning for high political office, the top politician in state government and the man who wants to succeed him have racked up a sizable security bill for Texas taxpayers.

Gov. Rick Perry incurred at least $82,544.31 in security costs traveling the country to poach jobs from other states between January and August. Meanwhile, Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is campaigning to replace Perry, incurred at least $3,152.65 in security costs during his first month on the campaign trail this summer. While Perry and Abbott argue that security policies are set by the Texas Department of Public Safety, critics of the spending contend that Perry and Abbott should reimburse the state for taxpayer-paid security costs.

“Gov. Perry is governor of Texas no matter where he goes," said Perry spokesman Josh Havens. "And the Department of Public Safety has a policy of providing security for governors and their families everywhere they travel, as they have done for several administrations."

The security costs for Perry's recent out-of-state campaigning include his security detail for trips he's taken to New York, Illinois and California since January, according to reports obtained from DPS. The agency's policy does not allow the department to provide specifics on Perry’s security detail, but the report shows that security-related costs include thousands of dollars in travel, food, lodging and other expenses.

Travel costs for Perry’s security detail during the out-of-state trips, which total $38,048, made up almost half of the security tab. In comparison, security costs for Perry’s in-state security are primarily related to food costs. When Perry travels within Texas, his security costs generally are hundreds of dollars per trip, compared with the thousands of dollars in security costs for each out-of-state trip. 

And the security costs for Perry's three trips could increase as more bills arrive. Quarterly security cost summaries show only reimbursements made during the time period the report covers, and not total costs associated with each trip. Security costs associated with trips Perry has made to lure jobs to Texas will increase by the end of the year, since the current reports don’t include his recent trips to Missouri and Maryland, which occurred after the end of last quarterly report.

Reimbursed security expenses for all of Perry’s travel from January through August, including security for travel within the state, totaled $186,590. 

The governor’s office says Perry’s personal travel costs during the trips are paid for by TexasOne, a public-private marketing partnership funded by corporations, economic development councils and local entities. But TexasOne does not cover expenses related to Perry’s DPS security detail. Those costs are paid for by taxpayers.

Perry's cross-country job-poaching campaign has generated some criticism, including some from people within his party, who have questioned security costs related to out-of-state trips.

During the last legislative session, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, filed a bill that would have required elected officials to report to the Texas Ethics Commission all security costs paid for by taxpayers for out-of-state travel.

If the commission deemed the trip to be unofficial state business, the elected official would be required to reimburse the state for security-related expenses.

Larson said Perry should follow the lead of other conservative governors who reimburse the state for expenses incurred during political trips.

"Just because it's a practice we have a history with doesn't mean it's an acceptable practice," Larson said. "If you're going to be conservative, then lead by example."

The bill didn’t make it out of committee. Larson said he met with Perry and found they had a "philosophical disagreement" about the issue.

Perry was previously criticized for his security costs during his failed presidential campaign in 2012. That taxpayer bill totaled at least $3.7 million.

Larson said he would pursue the legislation in the future. 

Security for Abbott, who announced his candidacy for governor in July, has so far cost taxpayers much less than it has for Perry.

Abbott’s most expensive security costs this year were related to a Washington, D.C., trip in February to testify in front the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, which cost taxpayers almost $8,000.

Abbott spent the summer touring the state, generating at least $3,152.65 in security costs during the first month of his “Main Street” gubernatorial campaign — half of the total security costs he incurred from April to August. 

Abbott's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The final security tab for his campaign will likely grow. His campaign through Texas occurred toward the end of the quarter. The next quarterly report could show costs that were not reimbursed during the last reporting period.

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, said taxpayers should not have to pay for elected officials’ security costs when they’re incurred on unofficial business, but he acknowledged that the line between official business and campaigning “becomes fuzzy.”

If Perry’s on a promotional trip on behalf of TexasOne and its corporate entities, which pay for travel and lodging, they should also pay for security, he said.

“I think the governor takes huge entourages as part of his show on the importance of Texas,” McDonald said. “Taxpayers need to decide whether he needs this entourage.”

McDonald also questioned why Abbott — who has about $20 million in his campaign war chest — would charge taxpayers for the costs of his campaign.

“We think the governor and the attorney general deserve some security. There’s no doubt about that,” McDonald said. “There’s also no doubt that security costs have been excessive.”

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Politics Greg Abbott Rick Perry