SEATTLE – The taxpayer price tag for Gov. Jay Inslee’s White House ambitions is escalating, as the Washington State Patrol plans to nearly double the size of his traveling security detail at a cost of more than $4 million over two years.
Anticipating a frenetic out-of-state schedule as Inslee jets around the country in pursuit of the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, the Patrol plans to assign six additional troopers, a sergeant and a lieutenant to the Executive Protection Unit (EPU).
The EPU, a plainclothes unit that operates like a state version of the Secret Service, previously has consisted of eight troopers and one sergeant.
The newly assigned troopers and related spending are expected to grow the EPU’s $2.6 million budget by about $1.5 million in the current fiscal year, which runs through June, and by $2.7 million in fiscal year 2020, according to figures provided by the patrol in response to a Public Records Act request from The Seattle Times and public radio’s Northwest News Network.
The added costs include salaries and overtime, as well as hotels, flights and other travel-related expenses. The Patrol has requested a budget increase but isn’t waiting for the Legislature’s permission and is expanding the EPU for now using existing funds.
Chris Loftis, a spokesman for the State Patrol, said Inslee did not ask for bolstered security; it was a decision the Patrol made after consulting with other states that have had governors run for the presidency.
“We have a responsibility to keep the governor and his family safe. We’re going to do it with fidelity and success. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
Loftis said the cost estimates are based on Inslee remaining in the 2020 presidential race well into next year. That’s an outcome that is by no means certain, as the governor, who has centered his campaign on a platform of fighting climate change, has remained near the bottom of the pack of more than a dozen Democratic contenders in early polling.
The governor’s political-related security costs are rising higher than previously reported. The protection unit already had struggled with expenses and staffing related to Inslee’s frequent travel last year as head of the Democratic Governors Association, a precursor to the presidential bid that he officially launched March 1.
Last year, the EPU overshot its $2.6 million allotment by $400,000, leading the Patrol to borrow troopers from its field operation and request a $1.3 million increase in the 2019-21 budget.
The Seattle Times and Northwest News Network reported in November that the governor’s increasing travel was putting a strain on the troopers in the small unit, with the sergeant overseeing the EPU writing to superiors he was worried about the staff’s health and welfare.
“We are literally sending troops all over the nation with sometimes only a couple days notice,” wrote Sgt. Leonard Crichton. “I am pretty sure we cannot continue at this level without something breaking.”
The planned bolstering of the EPU would increase its $2.6 million budget in fiscal year 2018 to $4.1 million in 2019 and to $5.3 million in 2020. The budget would drop to $3.2 million by fiscal year 2022 as some temporarily assigned troopers would be shifted back to other duties.
Inslee, serving his second term, has declined to offer reimbursement for the Patrol’s security costs from his political campaign, saying all governors are entitled to State Patrol protection, whether on official or political business.
“This is a state law or obligation that security is provided, has historically been provided for any governor for all of their travels under any circumstances. I am not going to propose a change in that policy,” he said earlier this month during a campaign swing through Iowa.
Jamal Raad, an Inslee political spokesman, said last week that position has not changed. However the campaign has started paying the cost of car rentals or use of state vehicles on Inslee’s political trips inside and outside the state, as required by Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules.
Inslee’s campaign boasted it raised more than $1 million a few days after announcing his presidential candidacy. Act Now on Climate, a super PAC supporting him, has already reported spending nearly $1.3 million, according to FEC filings.
Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said the State Patrol “let us know they were hiring additional personnel for the EPU but, as is the case with all security-related decisions, we did not direct WSP on this matter.” Inslee’s 2020 campaign does pay for the costs of his own travel and that of his political aides.
Republicans have criticized the hit to taxpayers from Inslee’s politicking, and have called on him to reimburse the state.
“The easy way to solve all this is the Inslee for President campaign to cut a check to the state treasurer,” said state Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn. “The state can’t mandate that the campaign pay for it, but the campaign can certainly step up and pay for it.”
Stokesbary and four other House Republicans sponsored a bill that would have the state create an account where campaign or other private funds could be donated to defray the security costs related to a presidential campaign. The bill also would have cut the governors office budget if such reimbursements were not made.
The proposal, HB 1021, did not receive a hearing in the Legislature, where Democrats have majorities in both chambers. Stokesbary said Republicans will likely seek to add some of its provisions as amendments to the 2019-21 state budget.
Stokesbary said the diversion of dollars could mean less money to hire troopers to enforce the law on state highways and that WSP also has had backlogs at its toxicology lab and with testing of rape kits.
Loftis said the Patrol has flexibility in its $691 million biennial budget. He said he could not identify exactly what portion of the Patrol budget the added EPU money would be drawn from. “We are a large agency and we manage the agency as a whole to meet our duties as they come to us,” he said.
Inslee’s time spent out of state also brings some other small expenses for the state. When Inslee is gone, Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib serves as acting governor, receiving an extra $291.42 a day.
It’s not uncommon for governors to eye the presidency, and others besides Inslee have come under fire for politics-related costs of their state police security units.
In 2016, Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin faced such criticism from Democrats as they campaigned unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination. Under pressure, Walker eventually agreed to have his presidential campaign cover some of the costs for his state security detail, including hotels, rental cars and flights.
Inslee has been out of the state again on a presidential campaign swing since Saturday, including visits to Oregon and Illinois. He is scheduled to return to Washington on Tuesday.
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