Six Governors Hit Taxpayers with $90,000 Bill for U.N. Climate Conference Travel

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“O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the LORD our maker.”  Psalms 95:6 (KJV) 

Gov. Jay Inslee brought his wife to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, sticking Washington taxpayers with the bill, which included more than $12,510.08 for business class airfare for the couple, something no other governor did at taxpayer expense.

Inslee led a delegation of subnational governments to the conference. The total travel tab for Washington taxpayers cost $25,955.32, more than any other U.S. state examined by The Center Square. The higher cost was due in part to the governor’s decision to fly with his wife in business class while other governors who attended at taxpayer expense flew in less expensive seats.

Inslee was one of six state governors who attended the conference. All six are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group created in response to former President Donald Trump’s climate policies. The other state leaders were New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Hawaii Gov. David Ige, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

In total, state documents obtained by The Center Square through open records requests show taxpayers in these six states spent more than $90,000 – not including most security costs – to send governors and other state employees to the conference in Glasgow in November 2021, during a time of pandemic restrictions, Zoom meetings and rising inflation.

The records detail what state leaders in Washington, New Mexico, Hawaii, Louisiana, Illinois, and Oregon did during the conference and how much it cost state taxpayers. Oregon was the only state that included the costs of providing security. The records from all other states examined didn’t include security costs. Those costs likely added at least thousands of dollars for taxpayers in each state.

Inslee and his wife, Trudi, booked Aer Lingus business class seats for the 7-hour flight from Chicago to Dublin and later flew coach to Glasgow at a cost to taxpayers of $12,510.08. For the overnight Aer Lingus flight, the Inslees had access to “exclusive premium check-in areas,” “luxurious airport lounges,” “delicious in-flight cuisine,” and “cosy lie-flat beds,” according to the airline’s website. Inslee flew out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport because he was in Chicago for 2024 campaign business at the time, according to campaign finance records.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards had a 10-hour flight in a premium economy seat. Taxpayers in Louisiana paid $2,108.78 for the flight, about a third of the cost of each of the Inslees’ flights.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige also brought his wife, Dawn, to the conference. Ige paid the state back for the cost of his flight using campaign funds. They used personal funds to reimburse the state for the cost of his wife’s flight.

Adam Andrzejewski, CEO and founder of OpenTheBooks.com, said Inslee’s travel expenses wouldn’t go over well with constituents.

“Nothing rankles taxpayers more than spending hardworking taxpayer money on ‘official’ foreign travel junkets,” Andrzejewski said. “People are still suffering from the pandemic and skyrocketing inflation, and Inslee is jet-setting around the world – seemingly sparing no expense.”

Mike Faulk, deputy communications director for Inslee’s office, told The Center Square it was vital for Trudi Inslee to attend the climate conference.

“Mrs. Inslee has been the governor’s closest adviser and confidant his entire career. Her presence anywhere contributes to the work of our office,” Faulk said in response to questions about why the governor and his wife chose to fly business class at taxpayer expense when no other U.S. governors examined by The Center Square did so. “The trip to COP26 was well worth the costs paid by the governor’s office given the global leadership role Washington state government and industries play in solving climate change and creating jobs in the clean energy economy.

“The governor led a coalition of nearly 70 subnational governments to accelerate climate action and continues to lead that coalition to ensure progress in mitigating the climate crisis.”

Faulk, who also attended the conference, flew coach but booked what a VRBO listing described as a “stunning” rental near the conference campus for $691 a night. The total cost to Washington taxpayers for Faulk’s five-night stay: $3,782.14. Faulk said his stay wasn’t covered by the Climate Registry, as many other costs were, because it was a late decision to send a communications staffer after bookings had already been made.

Faulk said the trip was important to stem climate change.

“When the governor decides whether a trip is worth the expense, he considers how it aligns with the policies we’re pursuing for Washington,” he said. “COP26 was obviously relevant in myriad ways, from the over-arching goal of halting the march of climate change to the granular details of how national and subnational governments can implement policies – and help each other’s economies – together in ways that work for the planet and for people.

Inslee has made efforts to stem climate change a signature issue. He has proposed reducing Washington state’s emissions by modernizing building regulations for clean energy projects, making electric vehicles more affordable and decarbonizing homes and workplaces with the Climate Commitment Act.

“States in recent years have increasingly realized they don’t need to wait for national governments to implement these policies, that in fact they can drive change nationally and globally by working together,” Faulk said.

The Climate Registry, a nonprofit organization, covered the cost of lodging and meals for the Inslees, Faulk said. He also said the nonprofit “offset the carbon impacts of the governor’s trip and the rest of their delegation.”

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, paid his own way. State officials redacted all information from Pritzker’s calendar about his flight except the name of the carrier, United Airlines.

The state provided flight details, including flight numbers and seat assignments, for all other government staff members who attended the conference but said the disclosure of Pritzker’s flight information, including where he sat on the plane, would constitute an unwarranted inv…

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