Republican Gov. Scott Walker took 65 percent more taxpayer-funded flights last year than the Democratic governor of New York, whose flying was noted in a recent news report for being more frequent than any governor among the 10 most populous states.
Wisconsin is not among those states (it ranks 20th) and was not included in the report, but liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now recently reported on Walker’s taxpayer-funded airplane travel since September 2015 when he dropped out of the presidential race.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took 195 trips in taxpayer-funded planes and helicopters in 2017, the New York Times reported Friday. The article noted that while he is entitled by law to fly the fleet, the Democrat’s frequent trips this election year have raised questions of whether state aircraft gives him an unfair advantage over his primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon.
Walker, now running for a third term in a tough match-up with Democratic State Superintendent Tony Evers, took 322 flights last year. That was down from the 351 he took in 2016. Only about a dozen over both years were reimbursed by the campaign.
Walker’s frequent flying occurred during a period when he was reconnecting with voters after spending a year running for president. He held dozens of invite-only feedback sessions with local officials and residents, met with local news outlets and toured schools, health care facilities and businesses.
“This proves Scott Walker is the hardest-working governor in America,” Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg said of the comparison to Cuomo. “He has made it a priority to get out of Madison and listen to the people, and he’s delivered positive results for Wisconsin.”
But One Wisconsin Now executive director Scot Ross is crying foul, saying taxpayers are subsidizing Walker’s political activities. He pointed to Walker traveling six days in a row on official business to the Green Bay and Appleton area leading up to the June 12 special election in the 1st Senate District, which a Democrat won for the first time in decades.
The six days included a flight into Green Bay from Platteville on the evening of June 7, an early morning interview with WLUK-TV on June 8, participation in an Appleton Flag Day parade on June 9, visits to Breakfast on the Farm events in Manitowoc and Outagamie counties on June 10, a broadband grant announcement in Oconto Falls on June 11 and remarks at a Green Bay packaging company on the morning of June 12. He also had stops in other parts of the state and on four of the five nights of the trip he returned to the executive residence in Madison.
“I don’t see how the governor can fly to the Green Bay media market each of the six days leading up to a special election where his party is defending a seat it’s held since 1977 and claim none of it is campaign related,” Ross said. “After 25 years in office, Scott Walker has become the most dangerous kind of politician, the one who thinks he’s entitled to use our tax dollars for whatever he wants.”
Ross also has highlighted a roughly $2,000 taxpayer-funded flight Walker took to Rhinelander the same day he filmed a political ad in nearby Three Lakes. State law requires politicians to reimburse the state at least half the cost of trips that include a political component.
Walker campaign spokesman Austin Altenburg said the campaign doesn’t plan to reimburse any portion of the flight because Walker was visiting Nicolet Area Technical College in his official capacity that day. The campaign then paid for ground transportation to Three Lakes and a $3,270 private flight back to Madison. The campaign ostensibly could have paid less had Walker made the state airplane stay in Rhinelander all day and paid half the cost.
“The campaign is appropriately paying for all subsequent campaign-arranged travel that we are responsible for, at no cost to taxpayers,” Altenburg said.
Since dropping out of the presidential race in September 2015 through July of this year, Walker has spent $934,000 on more than 950 taxpayer-funded flights.
The Times reviewed records in the 10 most populous states for comparison and found Cuomo flew more frequently on state aircraft than any other governor of states that provided records. In fact, Cuomo logged 50 percent more flights than the second-highest governor on the list, which includes several states that are geographically larger than Wisconsin, including California, Texas and Michigan, and a few that are roughly the same size geographically such as Illinois, Georgia and Florida.
In California, the governor flies commercial, and uses state aircraft only for emergencies, which is also the policy in Florida, Illinois and Texas.
Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown took roughly two dozen commercial round trips last year, the Times reported.
Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had his campaign pay for all chartered flights, including for state business, which have totaled $1 million since January 2015, the Times reported. The newspaper also quoted Abbott’s spokesman saying he uses campaign funds “to ensure no lines are blurred and to protect taxpayer dollars.”
Republican Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal took 137 helicopter and plane trips, Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf took 129 plane trips, Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich took 24 round trips in a state plane, and Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder took nine round trips, the Times reported.
Cuomo press secretary Dani Lever called it unfair to construe government events as political trips. Cuomo’s campaign said he has driven to more than 30 campaign events.
Using state aircraft is more efficient and economical than traveling commercial, since Cuomo is accompanied by aides and security personnel, Lever said.
The Times reported that Cuomo sometimes takes as many as four flights a day, sometimes for distances of 20 miles or less. For an event in July 2017 on Long Island touting commuter railroad upgrades, he flew from Manhattan in a helicopter rather than driving the 30 miles or taking a commuter train. This summer, Cuomo has flown to virtually every corner of the state.
Walker has taken as many as six plane rides in a single day, which he did on five occasions since September 2015. There were 34 days when he took five plane rides. The flights have been as short as 24 miles between Appleton and Green Bay as part of a day with multiple stops. The shortest round-trip was from Madison to Fond du Lac, which covers 61 miles.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.