Travel costs for Gov. Nikki Haley’s offices and the state Department of Commerce are down but that doesn’t mean recruiting efforts have dipped, officials say.
According to a review of spending records by GreenvilleOnline.com, both offices are spending less on travel now than during the last two years of the administration of Gov. Mark Sanford, who enjoyed a reputation as a government tightwad.
Travel spending at Commerce has dropped by 31 percent from fiscal year 2008-09 to 2012, according to the transparency website hosted by State Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom’s office. Spending for the Governor’s Office has dropped by about 40 percent over the same time period, the figures show.
The Governor’s Office spent a total of $286,216 on travel for the fiscal year ending in July, according to the transparency website, while the Commerce Department spent $323,018.
State agencies, including universities, overall increased their travel spending from $61.9 million to $66.5 million, or 7.4 percent, from the 2009 through 2012 fiscal years, according to the latest annual travel report issued by Eckstrom’s office.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Haley, told GreenvilleOnline.com that the governor has been committed to watching spending.
“From day one the governor looked at her goals for the state, set priorities, and made decisions based on getting the most for the taxpayer at the least cost,” he said.
“That goes for her decisions across state government, travel included, and we think the success South Carolina has seen on the jobs front shows you can strike that balance and deliver great results.”
Sen. John Matthews, an Orangeburg County Democrat who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said he was puzzled how spending numbers for the Commerce Department and Haley’s offices could go down with travel costs going up over that time period.
“That’s somewhat surprising,” he said. “I don’t know whether there is less recruiting or more recruiting or they have better ways to recruit or connect to potential clients. I would hope that it would be better ways to connect to clients because of current technology.”
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, an Orangeburg Democrat who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee, said she doesn’t believe university travel should be included in state government totals because universities have their own boards of trustees. She said she is pleased if travel spending is down for the governor’s offices and Commerce Department.
“If those numbers are accurate and have been coded appropriately, that’s a good thing that travel is down,” she said.
Both Mayer and Commerce Department Secretary Bobby Hitt said any drop in travel spending doesn’t mean the state is letting up on efforts to recruit or expand business.
“Gov. Haley pledged to bring jobs to South Carolina and that is exactly what she has done — announcing over 37,000 new jobs and over $9 billion invested,” Mayer said.
“This kind of success doesn’t happen randomly and is the direct result of a statewide approach to economic development that includes rural communities, South Carolina company expansions, and attracting new businesses from out of state and overseas. The governor and the Commerce Department have implemented a strategic, performance-based plan, focused on expanding our industry base and it’s producing major results for this state.”
Hitt said his recruiting efforts haven’t lagged.
“Commerce travels as needed to continue attracting new jobs and investment at consistently high levels,” Hitt said in a statement.
“Under the leadership of Gov. Haley, our performance in that regard has been exceptional. As team South Carolina, we’ve announced over 37,000 jobs and over $9 billion in capital investment since January 2011, and there is more on the way.”
Sen. Mike Fair, a Greenville Republican who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, said he wasn’t surprised by the figures.
“I think the governor is modeling her view on being a fiscal conservative,” he said. “You can’t ask others to be fiscally conservative if you’re the governor and you’re not setting an example.”
However, Rep. Kenny Bingham, a Lexington County Republican who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and is a former House majority leader, said looking at the spending numbers can be misleading.
“It depends on who you are recruiting and where you are traveling,” he said. “If you are recruiting a company relatively close, that certainly is going to be less of a ticket item than if you are heavily involved with companies farther away. Sometimes that is the luck of the draw.”
Bingham said no governor should be criticized over travel unless all the facts are known, including the results of recruiting.
“You could take it to the extreme and say this governor did not spend any money on recruiting,” he said.
“Is that a positive? Well, no. That could be because that governor did not want to do anything. It’s hard to draw any conclusions based upon how much money did you spend in a particular area.”
Bingham said just because a governor may spend more in travel doesn’t necessarily mean the state received more for the effort.
And he said the recession also could have impacted the amount of business there was to recruit.
Bob McAlister, the chief of staff for former Gov. Carroll Campbell, who recruited BMW to the Upstate, said it is important for governors to travel for economic development and some people don’t understand that.
“Anybody who criticizes a governor for spending money in order to go create jobs and development either really doesn’t understand the process or just wants to be a naysayer,” he said.
Haley and Hitt spent time in Germany this month to recruit jobs at the world’s biggest show for the automotive industry.
The trip was the second to Germany for Haley during her first term in office. In 2011, Haley and Hitt went to France and Germany in a much-publicized outing to recruit businesses at the Paris Air Show and elsewhere in Europe.
The cost of that trip was more than $127,000, while this month’s trip was expected to cost less than $100,000, a spokeswoman for the Commerce Department said.
Recently, Haley’s office announced the expansion of the Daimler Van Manufacturing Plant in Charleston County, a company she met with during her 2011 European trip.