December 8, 2022

Pritzker’s trip to U.N. climate conference cost Illinois taxpayers at least $14,000

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s trip to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow cost Illinois taxpayers at least $14,284.15.

Pritzker joined five other governors as part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a group created in response to former President Donald Trump’s climate policies, at the conference.

Pritzker, the billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, paid his own way. However, Illinois taxpayers spent at least $14,284.15 for Pritzker and members of his staff to attend.

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 invasion of his privacy because Pritzker paid for his own flight. Intersect Illinois, a nonprofit business and economic development group funded by an Illinois state grant, paid for the flights of five members of Pritzker’s staff to attend the conference. Every governor except Pritzker disclosed where they sat on the plane during the international trip.

Pritzker and his staff members also attended business meetings with trade groups, electric vehicle companies and officials from CME Group and BP Pulse, an electric vehicle charging company owned by the global oil and gas company. Pritzker’s schedule also included a tour of Parliament in London and a photo at the Lincoln Statue in Parliament Square.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee brought his wife to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, sticking Washington taxpayers with the bill that 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.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Hawaii Gov. David Ige, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also attended.

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, amid 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 which could add thousands of dollars in taxpayer costs 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 total taxpayer cost 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 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.

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.

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.”

At $18,672.31, Louisiana taxpayers had the second-highest conference tab of the six states. Louisiana officials noted two members of the governor’s staff had not submitted reimbursement forms at the time The Center Square requested the records, but those costs aren’t included in the $18,672.31. Oregon taxpayers paid $18,586.11 for Gov. Kate Brown, staff members and security personnel to travel to the conference. In Hawaii, taxpayers paid $11,478.65. The bill for New Mexico taxpayers was $0, according to spending records from the governor’s office. New Mexico officials didn’t respond to questions about how the trip was funded, but the Associated Press reported the Climate Registry and the Energy Foundation paid for trip expenses. The Center Square has requested, but not yet received, spending records from the New Mexico State Police, which provided security to the governor during the trip.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s schedule for the trip included sightseeing, such as a visit to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood House and Arthur’s Seat and a bus tour of the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness.

Of the six states reviewed, only Oregon included security costs. The Washington State Police said if it finds records related to the cost of the trip, it will make those records available by May 19. The Louisiana State Police, Illinois State Police, New Mexico Department of Public Safety and Hawaii Department of Public Safety have yet to provide copies of records showing how much was spent on security for the trip.

All six governors are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance, which Inslee started with former California Gov. Jerry Brown and former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017 after former President Donald Trump changed U.S. climate goals. President Joe Biden has since reversed Trump’s changes.

During the climate conference in Glasgow, the U.S. Climate Alliance announced “the next generation of ‘High-Impact Actions’ its states will pursue to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” according to a news release from the group.

“The U.S. Climate Alliance’s states are leading the world in the development and execution of new, innovative, and effective climate policies and actions, and today, we continue to press forward,” U.S. Climate Alliance Acting Executive Director and Policy Director Taryn Finnessey said in a statement. “The climate threat knows no borders and when we share solutions and expertise – not just with one another in the Alliance, but also with other like-minded subnational leaders around the world – we can truly turn the tide.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, 19, called the climate summit a failure.

“It is not a secret that COP26 is a failure. It should be obvious that we cannot solve the crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place,” she said during a speech about two miles away from the conference center. “The COP has turned into a PR event, where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action.”

This article was originally posted on Pritzker’s trip to U.N. climate conference cost Illinois taxpayers at least $14,000

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