Perry security, a growth industry

While school districts and most state agencies are struggling with billions of dollars in Rick Perry budget cuts, one group of state employees is spending more taxpayer dollars, lots more. This would be the governor’s statepaid security detail. Perry has long exercised his fondness for travel at someone else’s expense, but the tab is rapidly increasing now that he is crisscrossing the country, running for president.

Perry for years has used political funds to pay for his own travel expenses, and that practice continues. But Texas taxpayers always have paid for his Department of Public Safety bodyguards, and they still are. According to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio ExpressNews, the taxpayerpaid cost for security for Perry and/or his wife for outofstate trips since his reelection 11 months ago exceeds $364,000.

That covers 38 trips in all, including a family vacation to the Bahamas, economic development and book promotion tours and, more recently, presidential campaigning. The last eight trips covered by the article, which included Perry’s first several campaign trips to South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire, accounted for $70,869 of the total. The amount already is outdated by thousands of dollars and will continue to escalate.

The governor obviously needs security. But should the taxpayers have to continue paying for his security on presidential campaign trips? Or, should Perry reimburse the state from his political contributions? In a blog posting, an editorial writer for The Dallas Morning News wrote that since the governor is seeking another office, “a strong argument could be made that his campaign should foot the bill.”

While the highflying Perry has been running up his security costs, he, of course, has been demanding that mere mortals make do with less. He demanded deep budget cuts from the Legislature in education, health care and other important programs and signed the worst public education budget in Texas of his lifetime. It slashed $5.4 billion from public schools and, with it, many educator jobs.

Compared to cuts that deep, $364,000 may not seem like much. But it could help a school district, such as Dallas ISD, which lost more than 1,000 teachers and other employees since the last school year, start rehiring. You could pay about seven teachers for a year for $364,000 (based on Texas’ average teacher pay), and you could pay many more with the huge security tab the governor will have rung up by the time the presidential nominating season is over next spring.

President Obama will visit Dallas tomorrow to promote his new jobs plan, which could mean at least $191.6 million for Dallas ISD. Perry opposes it.

The Department of Public Safety has fought the public release of information about Perry’s security expenses. And, three months ago, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that DPS need only report the bottom line. The details of how the money actually is spent can now remain secret.

DPS argued security concerns, although I believe the agency was more concerned about being embarrassed by publicity over how extravagant some of the expenses can be.

Two years ago, for example, Perry traveled to Israel to accept a “Defender of Jerusalem” award from a political supporter. Security for that fiveday trip cost more than $70,000. Many school districts can hire two teachers for a year for that amount. The tab included $17,000 for the bodyguards’ rooms at the King David Hotel and nearly $13,000 for their food. That would buy a lot of school lunches.



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