MADISON (WKOW) — A liberal group is going after Governor Scott Walker for what they call "unnecessary" airplane trips on state planes that have cost taxpayers thousands.
One Wisconsin Now discovered through a public information request Governor Walker took 869 total flights between September 2015 and April 2018; totaling 114,390 miles, with a total net cost of $818,497.06 to taxpayers.
"We’re not saying he can’t go to a groundbreaking or a ceremony, but if one day visit to Eau Claire to visit a school and the next day was to head to a groundbreaking ceremony, I can’t imagine it’s not in the governor’s power those events could be put together and save the taxpayers expenses," said One Wisconsin Now Research Director Joanna Beilman-Dulin.
It’s not out of the ordinary for the governor and state lawmakers to use state planes to get around to political events, especially when there are multiple in one day. One Wisconsin Now points to specific trips that could have been used by a car. Their findings show in February of 2016, Walker had the state plane fly from Madison to pick him up in Milwaukee after getting a haircut, then the plane flew him to a National Rifle Association conference. The total trip cost $2,586.
"These are just some of the low-lights outrageous use and we think abuse of state plan and tax dollars," said Beilman-Dulin.
Walker’s spokesperson called the findings a "gross mischaracterization."
"Walker has shown an unparalleled level of commitment in supporting, listening to, and meeting with hard-working families in every corner of the state," said spokeswoman Amy Hansenberg. "From visiting communities recovering from disasters, to attending funerals of fallen officers and public officials, to discussing the positive things getting done throughout the state, Governor Walker has shown he stands ready to support Wisconsin and our citizens at any time."
In 2014, Democrats targeted Walker’s flights when he was up for re-election. He then released former Governor Jim Doyle’s flight records showing both spent nearly the same amount.
Executive Director of One Wisconsin Scot Ross argues when comparing his first term to his second, the annual taxpayer spending jumped from $241,000 to more than $317,000.
"I think you can absolutely argue that many of these trips are state business," said Ross. "But I would argue that many of these trips no one has any business flying to."
Other findings by One Wisconsin Now:
— "In September 2015 Walker used a state plane on a Saturday to fly to the funeral of Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks. Why would Walker spend $1,755 of taxpayer money on air travel when he could have driven? According to his social media posts he had tickets to a Badger football game that evening in Madison."
— "Walker took the short flight from Madison to West Bend in May 2017 so he could attend a “Walk With Walker” event in the area. He literally flew to take a walk, at a cost to taxpayers of $3,122 for that and the rest of his air travel that day."
— "Research Associates Savion Castro and Louise Lyall further broke down Walker’s state plane usage, detailing how he frequented state media markets and flew ridiculously short distances like the 24 miles from Appleton to Green Bay, 39 miles from Janesville to Madison or 24 miles from Kenosha to Milwaukee."
– (Attributed to Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director)