Gov. Charlie Crist usually has a sharp eye when it comes to appearances. But when it came to the extravagant cost of a 12-day trade mission to Europe this summer, the governor looked the other way.
The July trip that was expected to cost taxpayers $255,000 wound up with a public price tag of more than $430,000, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. That covered more than two dozen people who traveled with the governor, including nine bodyguards who spent more than $148,000. In the midst of a state budget crisis, this is too much like business as usual.
The governor and Enterprise Florida, the public-private business organization, offer the predictable defenses. Crist's expenses of more than $30,000 were paid with private money, which raises its own questions about possible conflicts. Enterprise Florida says the trip resulted in more than $5-million in sales and lays the foundation for future deals worth $96-million. That's great, but that's not the point.
When state unemployment and home foreclosures are rising, taxpayers are particularly sensitive about foreign trips, legislative retreats at resorts and other examples of behavior that suggests politicians don't feel their pain. Spending this kind of money and jetting around Europe with a large entourage always raises eyebrows, but it really sends the wrong message in tough economic times. Crist is well known to be frugal in his public and private life, but unfairly or not voters will remember this junket the next time the governor talks about the need for everyone to tighten their belts.