Travel by governor, lieutenant governor costs $125,000

Saturday, January 1st 2005, 4:10 pm

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Travel by Gov. Brad Henry and Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin has cost Oklahoma taxpayers more than $125,000 since August 2003.

Oklahoma's two top elected officials have taken at least 44 out-of-state trips for official business. Much of the travel was inside the United States.

International travel _ which included trips to Israel, the Republic of Georgia, China, Japan, France and Rio de Janeiro _ was mostly funded through private groups.

``In order for Oklahoma to be competitive in the global economy, a state chief executive must be willing to travel and make face-to-face contacts with business prospects and private sector leaders around the world,'' said Paul Sund, communications director for Henry's office.

Henry and first lady Kim Henry went on trade missions to Israel in September 2003 and China and Japan in June. In November, the governor and first lady traveled to Paris for a tour of schools.

Fallin visited the Republic of Georgia to provide political education forums for women in July and August of 2003. The lieutenant governor traveled to Rio de Janeiro in February for a sister state event with The State Chamber of Commerce.

Organizations such as the Oklahoma Israel Exchange, the Freeman Foundation and the Oklahoma Business Roundtable and others picked up the cost for the international trips, according to official records.

Sund said the governor's trade mission to China was an example of how a leader can help the state by traveling and meeting with other leaders.

``By spending a week and a half meeting with government officials and business prospects in one of the world's fastest-growing economies, the governor can help attract new investment to Oklahoma and create additional export opportunities for state companies,'' Sund said.

Elected officials say it does not pose a conflict of interest for their office to accept and take trips paid for by outside organizations that regularly pay for trips for Oklahoma officials, including past governors.

Tony Vann, spokesman for Fallin's office, said the lieutenant governor has cut travel costs for her office. He said grants from the Business Roundtable allow Fallin to meet with business leaders in other countries and allow her to represent Oklahoma's interests at national conferences.

Henry's office spent $14,701 for out-of-state travel in fiscal year 2004 and to date in fiscal year 2005. Fallin logged $5,889 in out-of-state travel expenses in her budget, according to data obtained through an open records request by The Oklahoman.

Those amounts do not include costs for security personnel required to travel with the governor and lieutenant governor.

Department of Public Safety costs for use of the state plane for trips taken during 2004 were more than $59,768, according to state records.

In-state use of the state plane for Fallin totaled $7,809, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Henry's travel included trips to the National Governor's Association, Democratic Governor's Association and Southern Governor's Association meetings.

Both leaders attended the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

The governor attended six other OU games and the Final Four college basketball tournament in which OSU played.

According to records provided, Henry scheduled official meetings during most of the game-related trips.

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