By Len Lazarick
The Republican leaders in the House of Delegates are suggesting that Gov. Martin O’Malley’s trip to Asia is costing Maryland taxpayers far more than the $100,000 advertised price tag. In a letter they sent the governor’s office Wednesday, they are asking for a full accounting of the cost and sources of funding for all the state officials on the trip, including 14 from the university system.
O’Malley returns Saturday from a 10-day trip to China, Korea and Vietnam that includes a delegation of at least 67 other people for some parts of the trip.
“I was shocked by the sheer volume of people on the trip,” including 27 from the government sector, said House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell of Calvert County. “That’s a lot of people for an economic development trip.”
“The bottom line for me is when the state is really struggling, I want to find out what taxpayers are really paying for this trip,” O’Donnell said. While the university system is not directly under the governor’s control, “to me that’s taxpayer money.”
Raquel Guillory, O’Malley’s new communications director, said, “This trip has already reaped millions in economic benefits and the governor hasn’t even returned.”
It has generated at least $40 million in direct investment to Maryland from a Chinese pharmaceutical company, and several other agreements with Maryland firms.
In response to previous press inquiries, the governor’s office has said the trip will cost $80,000, according to the Washington Times, and $100,000, according to The Washington Post. But those estimates only cover the full-time employees of the executive branch of state government, not the university personnel, the governor’s state trooper protection, or other staff that might not be on the list now on the governor’s website.
Guillory suggested partisan motives for O’Donnell’s letter. “Del. O’Donnell never raised this issue of cost when similar trips were taken by the previous governor,” she said.
According to figures from the Department of Economic and Business Development, Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich took a development trip to Asia in 2004 that cost $219,000 and a trip to Paris in 2005 that cost taxpayers $240,000.
“We asked these very legitimate questions in very respectful manner,” O’Donnell said. “There’s no need to get so defensive about it or to cast aspersions on anyone else.”
The opening paragraph to the letter the governor from O’Donnell and House Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio is at least a bit sarcastic.
“With Maryland’s plummeting business rankings and high tax environment, we know convincing corporations to locate here is not an easy task. We hope this trip proves to be a fruitful one for the citizens of Maryland.”
In an interview, O’Donnell said, “these trips are very expensive,” and this one included four international flight legs. “Those international flights are very expensive,” he said. According to travel websites, airfare alone for the entire trip may have cost upwards of $2,000 per person.
O’Donnell said, “I want them to know someone is watching them.”
According to DBED, the governor and his party got no airline discounts and traveled in coach (economy) on all slights, except that the governor will fly business class on the way back. This category has leg room than first class.
Not everyone on the list accompanied the governor to all three countries. The private sector travelers paid their own way, and even Del. Guy Guzzone, who is listed in the delegation, made and paid for his own travel plans and only met up with the delegation in Korea, according to a conversation he had with MarylandReporter.com and a story in the Howard County Times.