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Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013

Scott Walker Flies High on State Planes

Bills $183,000 to state taxpayers this year for flights

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Gov. Scott Walker blew through $160,000 of state taxpayer money while flying on state-owned planes in the first six months of this year. 

That’s about $100,000 more than he’d spent in the first six months of 2011, when he was flying around the state trying to convince Wisconsinites of the merits of his controversial collective bargaining bill. Legitimate taxpayer funded expenditures for travel on state business is, of course, part of the job, which including promoting legislation, but when these trips get scheduled around campaign appearances, it begins to cause some serious concerns. 

According to documents provided by the state Department of Administration in response to the Shepherd’s open records requests, Walker has spent $183,839.16 on his travels from Jan. 1 to July 30, 2013.

That amount doesn’t include his state-funded travels on commercial airlines or the expenses incurred during his April trade mission trip to China. Nor does it include the expenses he and his staff are racking up during their visit to Tokyo this week.

Walker most frequently flew between Madison and Milwaukee, and occasionally between Madison and Wauwatosa, usually at the beginning or the end of a day of flights around the state. Walker has two separate residences, the official executive residence in suburban Madison and his home in Wauwatosa. Walker made the 75-mile flight 44 times between January and the end of June. Even his aides are flying between the two cities 14 times without him. In Wisconsin, staff members traveling without the governor were always expected to drive short distances such as between Madison and Milwaukee and not run up a bill for a private plane ride.

“Scott Walker tries to market himself as a fiscal conservative with a deadly allergy to government ‘waste’—that was the alleged basis of his attack on the rights of Wisconsin workers and his rejection of federal funds to expand BadgerCare,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff. “This is also a guy who said Wisconsin couldn’t afford $750,000 per year to run high-speed rail between Madison and Milwaukee for commuters. But he’s apparently fine with spending [taxpayer funds] to shuttle himself between Madison and Milwaukee on a state-funded airplane.”

Walker’s press office didn’t respond to the Shepherd’s requests to comment for this article.

 

Campaign Donors Are a Destination

Walker often flies around the state to visit small manufacturers, where he meets workers, poses for photo ops and takes a few questions from local reporters. These events are closed to the public.

According to analysis of Walker’s state plane usage, his photo ops at state manufacturers are often held with his campaign donors. And there are many of them, since, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s campaign finance database, those in the manufacturing and distributing industry have contributed $3.5 million to Walker since 1993.

For example, Walker took the state plane to visit L&S Electric in Weston in January; its employees have donated $6,650 to Walker since 2009, according to WDC. The most recent contribution came one month after Walker made this visit.

Walker flew to visit Wausau Paper on Jan. 17; its employees have donated $35,200 to him since 2009.

On March 11, Walker signed the controversial mining bill at Oldenburg Group in Rhinelander; founder and CEO Wayne C. Oldenburg donated $10,000 to Walker’s campaign in 2010 and another $1,000 three months after this gubernatorial visit. Walker then flew to P&H Mining in Milwaukee later that day. WDC’s records show that P&H employees have donated $2,188 to Walker since 2010.

 

Promoting His Agenda

Like his predecessors, Walker conducts whistle-stop tours of the state to promote major milestones in his year, such as unveiling his budget or promoting important legislation.

In January, Walker barnstormed Wisconsin after his State of the State speech to visit local communities and media outlets. The governor logged 2,038 miles between Jan. 16 and Jan. 18, racking up $15,289.07 in charges to state taxpayers. His stops included Steel Craft Corp. in Hartford; press conferences in airplane hangars in Green Bay, La Crosse and Superior; a Chamber of Commerce meeting in Wisconsin Rapids; and a few stops in Milwaukee, although there’s no public record of him making an appearance in the city during this time. According to the documents the DOA provided, at the end of the tour Walker flew 211 miles from Milwaukee to Eagle River for the World Championship Snowmobile Derby on Jan. 18. He returned to Milwaukee and his aides flew the 75 miles back to Madison later that day without him.

Another Walker blitz occurred two weeks later, when he formally announced that he was promoting Reed Hall from interim CEO of the troubled Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) to be the agency’s permanent CEO. On Jan. 30, Walker, Reed and two aides swept through Milwaukee, Racine, Janesville, Madison, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Milwaukee (again) and ended their day in Madison. News reports show that Walker, along with local leaders, attended a National School Choice Week event in Milwaukee’s Grain Exchange that morning, and a South Suburban Chamber of Commerce awards dinner in Oak Creek. According to the WDC, school choice backers have donated $1.2 million to Walker over his career and an additional $7 million on independent issue ads between 2003 and 2012.

Reed and Walker continued their tour over the next two days, touching down in Oshkosh, Wausau, New Richmond, Appleton, Milwaukee, Madison, Marshfield and Sheboygan. The cost of Reed’s re-introduction to state taxpayers: $14,241.62.

Another expensive date this year was March 28, amid continuing reports of sluggish job growth and his own presidential ambitions. Walker racked up 911 miles and $6,698 in state plane costs flying from Madison to Milwaukee to Hypro in Rhinelander, then back to Milwaukee, and then on to M&M Tool in Green Bay, Richland Center, Milwaukee again and Madison. Walker attended a Greater Milwaukee Committee-backed entrepreneurial initiative during one of his three stops in Milwaukee on that day.

 

A Few Perks for Being Governor

In addition to visiting manufacturers and promoting his executive agenda, Walker has used the state plane to attend some less-official functions.

For example, on Feb. 6, Walker flew to Green Bay for Donald Driver Day, billing the state $1,245 for his photo op with the retired Packer.

On Feb. 8, Walker flew from Madison to Wausau to attend the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association (NRA) State Association in Wausau. He headlined the event with NRA President David Keane and spoke at a “meet and greet,” according to the NRA’s website. The cost of the round-trip flight was $1,869.

Another questionable flight took place on March 14, when Walker aides flew from Madison to Milwaukee to pick up the governor, then flew to Eau Claire to celebrate Premium Waters’ expansion and addition of 35 jobs. The governor then flew back to Milwaukee and ended the day in Madison. Walker’s only publicly known event in Milwaukee on that date was his $250-a-plate luncheon fundraiser with Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey at 11 a.m. Walker cannot use the state plane solely for political functions, although he can reimburse the state for campaign stops added on to official flights. Walker didn’t reimburse the state for any of his flights to or from Milwaukee on March 14, and his office didn’t respond to the Shepherd’s request to provide details on his whereabouts on this date.