BATON ROUGE – Members of the governor's public relations team took to Twitter to voice frustration over a WBRZ.com report highlighting the cost of a surprise trip to Italy Friday.
The trip, first reported on WBRZ.com Thursday night, was announced just before 6:30 Thursday evening. The governor, state legislators and the head of the State Police are traveling to Rome. At least the governor and State Police Col. Mike Edmonson will be accompanied by their wives, WBRZ learned.
The Twitter rant by current and former aides in the governor's office – the chief spokesperson and a one-time underling – came following a later post by WBRZ.com updating the original story.
When the governor's staff sent the original news release about the Friday trip to Italy, it did not mention the cost of such a trip. The governor was scheduled to fly to Italy with his entourage to discuss human trafficking with Catholic leaders and visit with Pope Francis. Hours before his scheduled departure, state lawmakers discussed how they would deal with a growing state budget crisis – by Friday, realizing the state was short some $313 million.
By Friday, frustration had escalated from chatter among colleagues to social media grumbling about reporters asking questions about how the travel was being funded.
Originally, the governor's office replied to WBRZ questions Thursday night that the governor's part of the trip was being funded by the state. His wife's travel, spokesman Richard Carbo said, was being paid for personally.
“It's accurate to say the state's paying for travel of state officials?” The writer of this article emailed to Carbo at 6:58 p.m. Thursday.
“I can only speak for the governor, and yes,” Carbo replied.
> CLICK HERE to see the email exchange
Hours later, at a news conference addressing another issue, the governor announced he would be paying for the trip himself.
“I'm paying for myself and my wife, so taxpayers won't be paying for that,” the governor said.
When WBRZ.com reported the governor had revealed taxpayers would not cover the travel bill but that he would take care of it himself, Edwards' staff became bothered the report highlighted the change.
Carbo said the governor had always planned to pay for the trip himself but a clerical mistake in the scheduling office made the trip appear to be funded by taxpayers.
“Terribly misleading and unfortunate,” Carbo tweeted about the story and the accompanying message from WBRZ - “NEW: After WBRZ Investigative Unit report questions state-funded trip to Italy, Governor says he'll pay his own way.”
By Friday afternoon, Edmonson revealed his travel was being taken care of privately, too.
The state is still responsible for the cost of travel for Edwards' legally required security detail.
Questions about expenses were on the minds of citizens, too.
“How much will this trip cost the state? Is it necessary?” Asked Chris White, identified as an engineer from Baton Rouge, on Twitter.
The governor's office said it could not provide an exact figure of the cost of travel for the governor's security detail. The State Police said it varies. In previous WBRZ reports highlighting lawmakers' concerns with previous Governor Bobby Jindal's frequent trips out of state, records show in cost, on average, about $13,000 per day.
@WBRZ bottom line- how much will this trip cost the state? Is it necessary?— Chris White (@ChrisWhitePE) January 13, 2017
As for Chris White's question about the trip – the governor's office said the trip will help share information on dealing with the human trafficking situation in Louisiana. The state is at the center of the problem – the corridor between Houston and New Orleans is the worst area.
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