OLYMPIA – Before leading a state delegation on a European trade mission in June, Gov. Chris Gregoire downplayed the price of the journey by saying it would cost less than $40,000. The state spent more than twice that much.
Gregoire’s hotel room in Paris cost nearly $500 per night, while travelers at times received per diems that estimated $84 dinners and $56 lunches, according to expense reports released to The Associated Press under state public records laws. The price of security alone was more than Gregoire’s initial estimate, although it still came in well under the totals for delegations from other states.
The total bill for the Governor’s Office, her Washington State Patrol security and aides from the Department of Commerce reached more than $98,000. That doesn’t account for the base salaries of workers who spent their time overseas or the expenses of other travelers with ties to state government, such as representatives from the University of Washington and Shoreline Community College.
The Governor’s Office doesn’t typically include security costs when estimating expenses, which explains why her initial projection doesn’t match numbers compiled by AP, said Gregoire spokesman Cory Curtis. He said the state is also disputing Gregoire’s hotel room expense and expects the rate to be below the $410 that the State Department considers standard for Paris. The meal costs are in line with those same federal guidelines.
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Curtis also pointed out ways the trip was organized to keep costs down: The hotel was comparatively cheap because it was far from the air show, and the delegation used public transit to get to the event. The schedule was designed to fit as many events as possible in the shortest window, including one two-day span that included meetings with more than 100 executives. Private funds covered the cost of the delegation’s booth at the air show.
Other states racked up higher bills: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spent $157,746 in taxpayer money on her trip to France. In North Carolina, state Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco and six members of his staff spent about $112,228.
Gregoire said in a statement that the air show provided the state with an invaluable opportunity to meet with leaders in the aerospace industry, and she said the small investment will pay off in the long term. She said the state has to aggressively market itself to attract new customers.
“We do it with extremely limited budgets and strategic spending,” Gregoire said. “No frills, but a lot of rolled-up sleeves and on-the-ground work to gain immeasurable exposure.”
Gregoire began her June trade trip just a day after signing a state budget that included massive cuts to education, including proposed reductions of teacher salaries of 1.9 percent. The outlook for state government has grown worse since then, as lawmakers now face another budget shortfall of $1.3 billion, and Gregoire has asked agencies to prepare for cuts up to 10 percent.
The Democrat has said her focus for the rest of her term will be on the economy.
Randall Julin, general manager at Spokane-based repair company Absolute Aviation Services, said the state-organized delegation kept costs down for smaller businesses. He also said Gregoire’s presence helped broker high-level networking that he wouldn’t have been able to get otherwise.
Julin said his company established a business relationship with Air France and he expects the groundwork laid at the air show to double the company’s international business in the next two years.
“From my personal standpoint, it was definitely a benefit,” Julin said.