MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin taxpayers have spent more than $98,000 since 2015 to send members of the Assembly to out-of-state events, including President Donald Trump's speech to Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan's swearing-in and a prison tour in Texas.
The records showing taxpayer-funded costs for out-of-state travel were provided to The Associated Press on Thursday by the office of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who must approve any out-of-state travel for Republicans and Democrats.
The records show that taxpayers spent $32,000 in 2015 and 2016, and have spent $66,000 since the start of 2017 on travel to places including the nation's capital, Nashville, Tennessee, New Orleans, Boston, and Canadian cities, including Toronto and Quebec City.
Vos and other lawmakers have been under scrutiny for their travel, including trips paid for completely by lobbyists and other groups. The records released Thursday cover only trips that were paid for with taxpayer dollars.
Since 2015, taxpayers have paid $66,350 for Republican trips and $31,891 for Democrats. Republicans hold a 64-35 majority in the Assembly. Republicans have 65 percent of the seats in the Assembly and accounted for roughly that same percentage, 67 percent, in travel costs over the past two years.
Those costs include nearly $1,300 related to Vos and two other Republicans to attend Trump's speech to Congress in February 2017. Vos attended House Speaker Paul Ryan's swearing-in ceremony in October 2016 at a cost of nearly $1,100 to taxpayers. It cost taxpayers $1,654 to pay for Vos to attend the July 2017 White House announcement that Foxconn Technology Group was building a factory in Wisconsin.
Vos' travel drew scrutiny from Scot Ross, director of the liberal attack group One Wisconsin Now.
"At the same, Robin Vos is passing bills to put more burdens for those on public assistance, he's spending thousands of tax dollars to fly all over the country to do things like watch a Trump speech he could have watched on television for free, or watch Paul Ryan be sworn in as speaker, or attend a Foxconn press event where he didn't speak at nor was even recognized," Ross said.
Vos defended the trips.
"Speaker Ryan invited me to his inauguration as speaker," Vos said. "I think that's obviously important for us to be there to support Congressman Ryan. I also think when they invite you to the State of the Union to represent your state, of course you take them up on the invitation."
Vos said it was also important to be there for the Foxconn announcement, a project that could result in a $10 billion investment in the state and creation of 13,000 jobs. Democrats have criticized it because taxpayers could pay $4.5 billion in incentives for the project.
Democratic Rep. David Bowen, of Milwaukee, attended a briefing at the White House when Barack Obama was president in June 2015 at a cost of $515. And Rep. David Crowley, a Democrat from Milwaukee, spent $505 in taxpayer money to attend a Congressional Black Caucus meeting in Washington in September 2017.
Most of the Democratic travel was to attend meetings hosted by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group that supports lawmakers and provides them with numerous resources to help draft legislation and track bills across the country. Republicans from Wisconsin also attended those events which accounted for about three quarters of all the travel costs — roughly $72,000.
"I guess I look at it and say I want legislators to work in a bipartisan fashion," Vos said. "I want them to get best practices from around the country so they can bring those ideas back here."
Those NCSL meetings have taken place in Washington, D.C., Seattle, Utah, Sante Fe, New Mexico, Boston, California and Quebec City.
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