Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's travel expenses add up

Since taking office, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has spent $273K on trips, many promoting the state and attempting to lure business and jobs to the Sooner State.
by Phillip O'Connor Published: October 15, 2012
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More than 90 percent ($256,000) of the cost associated with Fallin's taxpayer-supported travel is for use of the state plane (see sidebar) and the Highway Patrol security details who, by state policy, accompany Fallin whenever she goes on the road. By comparison, Gov. Henry, Fallin's Democratic predecessor, spent $295,000 in such costs during his last 24 months in office.

Those figures include only the tickets, meals and lodging for the security personnel and not their payroll costs. The Department of Public Safety refused to release such records or the amount of compensatory time accrued by troopers saying it could compromise security by enabling someone to determine the number of people assigned to any given detail (see sidebar).

The $273,000 figure also does not include the hotel and other costs incurred by staff members who frequently accompany Fallin on the road, which accounts for about another $6,000 in taxpayer-covered expenses.

Some of Fallin's trips have raised eyebrows in the Capitol and drawn public criticism on social media blogs and discussion boards.

In June 2011, Fallin spent a week in Ireland for her daughter's now annulled marriage. The trip cost taxpayers $13,300 to send a security detail.

One of her most expensive trips was to the OU and Oklahoma State University bowl games following the 2011 football season.

Her trip on the state plane to Phoenix and then on to Las Vegas cost $15,700, including a one-night stay for $240 in The Buttes Marriott Resort and a $172 meal at Top of the Rock, a restaurant at the resort. Her husband accompanied her on the trip.

Fallin's leisure travel to destinations such as the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Las Vegas came at a time when she was encouraging state residents to vacation in Oklahoma.

“One of the things that can help boost our budget, boost our economy in Oklahoma is tourism and travel,” Fallin said at a news conference last year touting so-called “staycations.”

In other instances, such as when Fallin travels on political business, some of her costs are picked up by others. For example, when she traveled to Charlotte, N.C., during the Democratic Convention last month, the presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney paid for the commercial airfare for the governor and an aide, their lodging and that of her security detail. The trip still cost Oklahoma taxpayers about $1,700 for security airfare, meals and car rental among other things.

Fallin also has tapped her campaign fund to pay for some travel. According to campaign finance reports filed with the state Ethics Commission, Fallin and her staff have used about $3,000 from campaign funds for travel since she took office, mostly for a Republican Governor's Association meeting in Orlando in November.

On an unknown number of trips, the Roundtable has helped pick up part of the tab, to the tune of $60,000. The group declined to make available a detailed account of those expenses, but a Fallin aide said most of that money went to pay for meals and entertainment involving the governor and business prospects, whom he declined to identify.

“I think the taxpayers have the right to know why the governor is there and what she's doing, which is meeting with business and trying to bring and retain jobs in Oklahoma,” Weintz said. “As far as which companies we're meeting with and who in those companies we're meeting with, often that's sensitive because we're competing with other states to attract businesses to Oklahoma and we don't want to be seen as poaching business from other states and other countries. There's sometimes a public interest in discretion as well.”

Fallin's travels began within days of her inauguration, when she flew to visit Pickens' Pampa, Texas, ranch. Less than a month later, she made the first of six trips to meetings conducted by the National Governors Association, which covers some of her costs.

Home at Grand Lake

By far, her most trips were to Grand Lake, where Fallin and her husband, Wade Christensen, bought a new home in July 2011. Records show she traveled there 21 times, always on weekends (see sidebar).

The governor has used the state plane four times at a cost of roughly $1,200 a trip to fly to Grand Lake for one day before flying on to other locations for state business from Grand Lake.

Christensen has accompanied Fallin on several trips, including to a Governors Association meeting in Washington where he flew in for one night to accompany her to a White House dinner.

It was one of eight trips Fallin has taken to Washington since taking office. Other destinations have included New York three times, Chicago, Dallas, Orlando, Salt Lake City and the Bahamas, a personal trip on which the state plane was used at a cost of $7,800.

Fallin's hectic travel schedule sometimes has her out of the state or on vacation for more than two weeks a month. Still, she's taken far fewer trips than some previous governors. Nigh, for example, made 124 trips on state planes in 1982, most to destinations within the state.

Weintz, Fallin's spokesman, emphasized that overall, Fallin's office budget is the smallest for a governor since 2001. Because economic development is a top priority, more of that smaller budget has been allotted for travel.

The governor's office budget was about $2 million in 2012 and $2.2 million this fiscal year. Previous Oklahoma governors' budgets during the past eight years have ranged from $2.5 million to $2.9 million, records show.

Fallin leaves this week for Europe, where she will lead a delegation of northeastern Oklahoma business and civic leaders. The Oklahoma Business Roundtable will cover the cost of airfare and lodging for the governor and her staff members.

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by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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INTERACTIVE (click the image)

Interactive timeline and map of Governor Mary Fallin and former Governor Brad Henry's travels while in office with information on total expenses incurred to the Oklahoma tax payer and total time spent traveling during their terms.
Interactive timeline and map of Governor Mary Fallin and former Governor Brad Henry's travels while in office with information on total expenses incurred to the Oklahoma tax payer and total time spent traveling during their terms.

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