On Feb. 11, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, his wife and three aides flew in a luxury jet to Washington for a weekend of politicking, including an appearance on Fox News Sunday and a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Our problem is not that we tax too little,” Barbour told the gathering. “It’s that we spend too much.”
The potential presidential contender may have another problem: Mississippi taxpayers paid the tab for Barbour’s first-class travel. State documents obtained by TIME show that Mississippi shelled out $7,020 to shuttle Barbour and his entourage to and from D.C. on its Cessna Citation, a cost that Barbour says is justified by state work he did in D.C. over the same weekend. “The trip requests make clear the Governor was on official business including meetings with members of Congress about issues ranging from economic development to energy policy and health care reform – all important to the people of Mississippi,” says his spokeswoman Laura Hipp. According to the documents, Barbour’s reason for using the state plane was a “meeting with Congressional leaders”; his office declined to make public his full schedule for the two day visit.
Taking the state’s jet for a mix of personal and state business is nothing new for Barbour, who says he will make a final decision on a presidential bid in April. He racked up more than $300,000 in taxpayer-funded travel bills in 2010, spending all or part of at least 175 days outside the state, according to the Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss. On trips with less overlap with state business, Barbour has made a habit of hiring his own private plane, his aides say. (Politico’s Ben Smith has more detail on Barbour’s flying schedule here.)
State law places few restrictions on a governor’s use of the plane. But such luxuries clash with the cost-cutting message Barbour is bringing to Republicans around the country. “It’s very ironic,” says Lynn Evans of Mississippi’s Common Cause, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “For him, that’s just the way it’s supposed to work.”
UPDATE: On March 25, The Associated Press asked Barbour about this same state-funded flight to Washington. “I will tell you that compared to my predecessor, my hours on our state plane are almost exactly the same, less than 10 percent difference per year,” the Mississippi governor responded.