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Government Abbott won't detail who's paying for job hunting trips

Abbott won’t detail who’s paying for job hunting trips

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To friendly interviewers and curious executives, Gov. Greg Abbott made a familiar mantra clear Monday and Tuesday in New York: Texas is wide open for business.  

What’s less clear is how exactly Abbott is paying for the jaunt, the first in a series as he seeks to follow in the footsteps of his jobs-poaching predecessor. When Abbott’s office announced his trip to New York earlier this month, it said only that TexasOne, a quasi-governmental agency, would “sponsor” the trip.  

Requests for further information on how the trip is being paid for, and who accompanied Abbott, have been met with silence from the governor’s office, which has prided itself on transparency.   

“It just looks to us like the same old kind of politics with just a new person at the helm,” said John Courage, state chairman of the nonpartisan watchdog group Common Cause.  

The lack of detail about his trip’s funding even puts Abbott somewhat at odds with former Gov. Rick Perry, who accrued travel costs at a remarkable rate but often included a disclaimer that “no state tax dollars will be used for the governor’s travel and accommodations for the trip.” Abbott’s spokespeople have left that question unanswered. 

At least during his last year in office, Perry’s office also disclosed in advance which TexasOne members would be represented in his delegation on economic development trips. Abbott’s office did not do that when it announced his New York visit, and his spokespeople have not replied to requests for information on his fellow travelers to the Empire State. 

If TexasOne is footing the bill for the trip, there is no guarantee taxpayer dollars are not being used. The agency runs off donations from members, including corporations and civic organizations. Some of those groups are partnered with local governments and get all or some of their money from tax revenue.  

For example, the Frisco Economic Development Corporation is paying $10,000 for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to be a member of TexasOne, according to Dave Quinn, vice president of the corporation. The Frisco group is entirely funded by a half-cent sales tax voters approved in the 1990s, generating about $18 million a year.  

“For us, it’s a public function,” Quinn said of the New York trip, which he went on with Abbott.  

At least one part of Abbott’s trip will be entirely taxpayer-funded: his security detail. That is not unlike Perry’s most politically active years, when the former governor racked up at least $1 million a year on average to transport, feed and house his security detail.   

The Texas Department of Public Safety issues reports every quarter of the fiscal year tallying how much it costs to protect the governor and his family. The tally for Abbott’s New York trip will not be public for another few months. 

When Perry traveled out of state and out of country, he largely relied on TexasOne and Americans for Economic Freedom, a nonprofit set up under a part of the tax code that lets it raise unlimited money from undisclosed donors as long as its work is less than one-half political. Perry sometimes also used his state campaign account to pay for transportation and lodging, particularly if a part of a trip was served a more political than official purpose.  

Abbott could also be tapping his Texas campaign coffers, which he recently replenished with more than $8 million. A full accounting of his campaign finances, including its expenses, is due Wednesday to the Texas Ethics Commission. 

Regardless of how Abbott is paying his way, his office does not appear interested in publicly detailing it. The governor’s spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on the topic beginning Sunday, and did not reply to a list of questions Tuesday, including whether taxpayers dollars were used for his transportation or lodging on the New York trip. 

“It’s puzzling and confusing that on one hand, he would really be promoting” transparency, Courage said. “But on the other hand, he chooses to stand by the procedures and practices of the past of not disclosing.” 

On the exact source of Abbott’s trip funds, Courage added, “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be disclosed.”  

Abbott plans to continue his job-hunting quests. He has said he plans to travel the country and world promoting the Texas economy now that the 84th legislative session is over. TexasOne’s calendar shows it has similar excursions planned to Mexico in September and Cuba in December. 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/07/14/unclear-how-abbotts-paying-jobs-hunting-trips/.

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