Border trip costs taxpayers $12,199
Stitt’s charter flight to Texas not paid by state
Oklahoma taxpayers will foot the bill for Gov. Kevin Stitt’s charter flight to Texas last week to join Republican governors for a news conference to criticize President Joe Biden’s immigration and border policies.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation, whose plane was not available due to maintenance issues, is processing the $12,199 bill for Stitt’s charter flight to and from south Texas, the governor’s office said Monday.
The flight appears to be the only taxpayer-funded cost associated with the governor’s trip, an event that some critics have called a political stunt.
Stitt and his staff did not stay overnight in Texas and the cost of security at the border was not paid for by the state of Oklahoma, the governor’s office said.
The cost estimate from the Oklahoma City charter aircraft company showed Stitt was tentatively scheduled to land at 10 a.m. at Weslaco, Texas, and depart by 2 p.m. the same day, giving him about four hours near the U.S.Mexico border. The document was provided to The Oklahoman in response to
a public records request seeking costs associated with the trip.
Stitt’s office did not respond to a request for comment specifically about the taxpayer funds used for the trip.
It’s not unusual for Stitt to fly across Oklahoma or out-of-state for official business.
Stitt joined eight other Republican governors for a news conference in which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Biden has created a “humanitarian crisis and chaos on our border.”
Stitt did not speak at the news conference in Mission, Texas, but in a news release, the governor suggested the increased number of border crossings is bringing more illegal drugs to Oklahoma.
“This border crisis affects our entire nation,” he said. “In Oklahoma, we have seen an increase in the trafficking of illicit drugs, namely methamphetamine and fentanyl, which are being smuggled across our southern border from Mexico. Most methamphetamine available in our state is produced in Mexico and fentanyl-related deaths are up over 150% over the last year.”
Rep. José Cruz, D-Oklahoma City, chalked up the governor’s trip to one thing.
“It’s election season,” said the freshman lawmaker who represents a heavily Hispanic district in south Oklahoma City.
With a Democrat in the White House, Republicans across the country have amped up their rhetoric about the country’s southern border as Biden has attempted to roll back some of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Immigration is a complex federal issue, Cruz said, but Stitt’s one-day trip to the border is not going to solve it. Instead, he said, Stitt should focus on Oklahoma’s more pressing issues, such as education, health care and managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t think it’s a priority,” Cruz said. “I don’t think that flying down there is the best use of taxpayer funds.”
The event occurred after the Biden administration did not respond to a letter from more than two dozen Republican governors, including Stitt, requesting a meeting with the president to discuss the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.
While in Texas, Stitt was briefed by state and federal law enforcement officials about the border situation. He also toured the border from a boat on the Rio Grande.
One of Stitt’s early acts as governor was to sell the state plane that previous governors used for travel.
Since then, the governor has relied on other state aircraft and private planes for travel. In some instances, private entities have covered the costs of Stitt’s charter flights.