Gov. Scott Walker spent more than $59,000 flying around Wisconsin during his first six months in office, with the bulk of the travel coming during the contentious battle over the Republican governor’s legislative agenda and budget.
In 17 trips between January and June 21, the date on which the Wausau Daily Herald requested Walker’s travel records from the state, the governor and his staff members held news conferences, visited businesses in all corners of the state and joined other Wisconsin politicians at a celebration of the Packers’ Super Bowl win in Green Bay.
The expenses are about equal to those of Walker’s predecessors of both parties, including Democrat Jim Doyle, who spent $55,649 on 27 flights in the first six months of 2010.
But travel expenses are a frequent target for political opponents, particularly during tough budget times, and Walker is no exception.
Three of the planes are Pilatus models and one is a King Air model. All are propellor-driven aircraft that seat nine people.
Walker presented himself as a fiscal conservative with ads featuring his 1998 Saturn auto and brown-bag lunches during the fall election campaign.
Previous reports on the Republican’s travel expenses by Wisconsin media outlets earned a rebuke on the website for the AFL-CIO union, picking at the contrast between thousands in travel expenses and Walker’s fiscal promises.
Walker’s flights came “even as he tried to balance the budget on the backs of working families,” the post read, referring to changes to public employee unions’ collective bargaining abilities that the governor advanced this spring.
Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said Friday that each trip the governor makes is evaluated to compare the cost of flying with the cost of driving. Walker’s schedule also affects the mode of travel.
“With that said, it is important for the governor to highlight private sector job growth and worthwhile to not always hold bill signings in the Capitol,” Werwie wrote in an email. “Ultimately, I believe we spend less money on travel than previous administration.”
The most expensive trip, on Jan. 18, took the governor and five members of his staff and other state agencies from Madison to Platteville, St. Paul and Superior to place “Open for Business” placards on signs along the state line. The four flights cost a total of $5,196.47.
During his first two and a half months in office — the latest specific travel figures available — Walker flew 5,279 miles costing about $37,744. Had he made those trips in his state-leased GM Yukon getting 21 highway miles per gallon, they would have cost about $925 in current fuel costs alone.
Walker made seven stops in the Wausau area during the six months of travel data provided, including a June 17 bill signing in Rothschild and news conferences held on two separate days at the Wausau Downtown Airport during the debate over public employee collective bargaining power.
Other trips included damage surveillance after the April tornado struck the town and city of Merrill and severe storms hit La Crosse in May, visits to businesses to promote the Walker administration’s job plans and promotion of the collective bargaining changes in February and March.
Meg Ellefson, organizer of the Wausau Tea Party, said Walker’s travel expenses deserve less criticism than those of other politicians.
“If Gov. Walker traveled the state on his bicycle, his political opponents would criticize the type of bike he rode, the route he took and the color of his helmet,” Ellefson said. “Conversely, these critics find no fault with President Obama’s perpetual golfing, lavish vacations and the excessiveness of his spending. The hypocrisy of the left knows no bounds.”
Each of the state’s four passenger planes also is used by other state officials, University of Wisconsin organ transplant teams, UW athletic teams and students of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
The Daily Herald also requested data on any flights by sitting state lawmakers from the Department of Administration. No flights were recorded during the January to June 21 time period.