Florida taxpayers pick up the tab for security when other governors visit

TALLAHASSEE — When Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana visited Jacksonville to campaign for Rick Scott last fall, state law enforcement agents provided extra security — and Florida taxpayers picked up the tab.

Jindal's one-day trip last September cost $3,137 and was one of 51 visits by out-of-state dignitaries in the past fiscal year, costing the state about $77,000.

For years, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has provided security and transportation to visiting presidents, governors and foreign leaders. State law says failure to do so could put a high-profile visitor in danger "or could result in public embarrassment to the state."

Whether they're here on business, for meetings, or simply to golf or fish.

The dignitary protection costs stand out in a new report by FDLE that shows the agency spent $1.9 million to protect the governor, his wife, family members and grounds of the Governor's Mansion from July 1, 2010, to June 30 of this year.

The first six months of that period were the last six months of former Gov. Charlie Crist's term. His security and transportation cost $893,000. Protecting Scott and his family for the past six months cost $982,000, the FDLE said.

For out-of-state visitors, the state-funded security is in addition to the dignitaries' own security.

FDLE spokeswoman Heather Smith said other states return the favor when Florida's governor travels. "We benefit from that reciprocity. When our governor travels, we are assisted by other states," Smith said.

The single most expensive dignitary visit was by Jindal's wife, Supriya, last April. The four-day trip cost $4,423. Jindal's office declined to respond to requests for the purpose of the trip.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell made several trips to Florida, including three visits so far in 2011. A spokesman said he visited the Tampa area with his family in February, attended a March meeting of the National Assessment Governing Board (a student achievement group) in Miami and brought his children to Fort Myers for spring break in April.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and his wife made a brief stop in Florida in April while en route to the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba to visit members of the Wyoming National Guard stationed there, spokesman Renny MacKay said. The cost: $2,342.

"When the governor and first lady landed in Miami on (April) 18th, law enforcement took them from the commercial side of the airport to the private side, where the military provided transportation to Cuba," MacKay said in an e-mail. "Upon their return to Miami, law enforcement drove them back to the commercial side of the airport."

FDLE spent $2,300 last fall when Gov.-elect Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania spent Thanksgiving week in the Florida Keys.

"He was in Florida. It was a personal trip at the invitation of friends," said Sgt. Anthony Manetta of the Pennsylvania State Police.

Manetta said that if Scott visited Pennsylvania, he would have a state trooper escort and access to a state car.

"He'd have one of our troopers at a minimum," Manetta said.

Other visitors who received FDLE protection in the past year included former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, governors of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the prime minister of Guyana and 20 governors.

The state does not provide details on the purpose of any of the trips.

A frequent Florida visitor was former Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who made five trips to Florida, all of them personal, at a total cost of $9,200.

Sanford is a Fort Lauderdale native, his parents live in Florida and his ex-wife's parents own a house in Hobe Sound.

Sanford acknowledged in 2009 an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman, and the two were photographed in the Keys in June of last year. The ex-governor, who was termed out of office in January, could not be reached for comment.

One name not on the FDLE report is President Barack Obama, who made several high-profile visits to Florida over the past year. The FDLE's Smith said the Secret Service did not request the agency's help.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Gov. Mark Sanford

$9,219

The former South Carolina governor made five visits.

Gov. Jack Markell

$8,166

Delaware's governor and his family made seven total trips.

Source: Florida Department of Law Enforcement, July 1, 2010-June 30, 2011

Gov. Bobby Jindal

$3,296

The Louisiana governor's trips included a campaign stop for Gov. Rick Scott.

Supriya Jindal

$4,423

Jindal's wife's trip was for "personal" reasons.

Florida taxpayers pick up the tab for security when other governors visit 07/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2011 11:48pm]

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