While Gov. Steve Beshear is preaching frugality, records obtained by The State Journal show he rang up almost $86,000 in expenses during an economic development trip to Japan.
The austere biennial budget approved by the legislature earlier this year imposed severe cuts on many state agencies and included a 1 percent raise for state employees while some other public employees got 4 percent.
During his budget speech, Beshear said everyone must tighten their belts.
"This is a budget in which state government and all of its organizations must prove that they can be better stewards of the taxpayers' hard-earned money," Beshear said.
However, Beshear, first lady Jane Beshear, four key administration officials and two Kentucky State Police troopers spent a week in Japan earlier this summer and the nearly $86,000 made it among the most expensive of its kind for what's become a traditional trip for Kentucky governors.
Despite the high price tag, Jay Blanton, a spokesman for the governor, said the trip to Japan was a good investment.
"You have got to spend dollars and time and effort to get the payoff," he said. "When the economy is tight we need to pay more attention to job recruitment efforts. The people of Kentucky expect the governor to aggressively recruit investments that result in jobs."
Here are some of the highlights of expenses revealed in an open records request:
>$28,000 for a reception at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Other expenses for the party include $2,000 for a performance by a bluegrass band, $700 for photos and $200 for flowers " pushing the total to almost $31,000.
>$13,500 for rooms at the Imperial Hotel, including "deluxe" lodging for the governor at about $500 a day.
>$12,000 in airfare on Comair and Delta, including business and first class tickets for the Beshears
>$9,000 to the hotel limousine service for rented sedans and mini-vans
>$7,500 for hotel and travel expenses for Jiro Hashimoto, Kentucky's trade representative in Japan, and his assistant. The expenses were in addition to Hashimoto's annual salary of $202,000.
>$5,700 for meals
>$3,300 for other rented cars from a company other than the hotel limousine service
>$2,500 for tickets on a high-speed train
>$1,800 for business cards, postage and mailing for 700 invitations to the reception
Although the purpose of the trip was to recruit economic development prospects, expense reports show the first lady also made several sightseeing stops, including:
>$170 for admission to the National Theater
>$75 for a tea ceremony course
>$50 for admission to Suntory Museum
>$20 for admission to Nagoya Castle
>$20 for admission to Noritake Museum
The cost of living in Japan is one of the highest in the world, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Travel is exceptionally expensive " bus tickets can cost $25 or more and taxi fare can be hundreds of dollars for a single trip, according to a travel advisory.
The annual trip to Japan has been a ritual for Kentucky governors for more than 30 years. Julian Carroll went when he was governor in the 1970s. Carroll says today Kentucky's connection with Japan helped pave the way for Martha Layne Collins to seal a deal with Toyota to locate a huge plant in Georgetown when she became governor. Carroll is now Frankfort's state senator.
Blanton, in an interview today, said it took a long time for the relationship to develop between Collins and Toyota and she visited Japan several times. Blanton said the Toyota plant has also created jobs at hundreds at suppliers and spin-off companies.
Paul Patton went eight times to Japan on economic development business. The price of airfare was $1,400 a ticket when Gov. Brereton Jones went to Japan in 1992. The delegates stayed in single and double rooms for between $300 and $400 per night.
Gov. Ernie Fletcher also incurred about $8,500 in travel expenses and luggage transportation fees when he traveled to Japan in 2004. He also spent $18,000 on a reception, $1,100 on airfare and $5,800 for other travel expenses during a 2006 visit.
Governors at times have traveled abroad to places in addition to Japan. For example, Fletcher spent $70,000 on a trip to Germany, Italy and Spain in 2004, including $25,000 for hotels and $6,800 for a cocktail party.
Gov. Wallace Wilkinson was criticized for spending $84,000 (about $139,000 at today's value) on a trip to Europe at the end of his administration. Wallace and 12 other officials flew first-class and stayed at
The Ritz in London, with a price tag of $1,100 per night.
The eight-member Beshear delegation traveled to Japan on June 8 and returned on June 15 after visiting with leaders in Japan's business community. The Beshear delegation also promoted the 2010 World Equestrian Games, which are coming to Lexington.
Secretary of the Economic Development Cabinet John Hindman said the trip was important for maintaining relationships with Japanese companies, which employ about 40,000 in Kentucky.
"Having the governor lead these discussions shows just how serious Kentucky is about bringing business to the state," Hindman said prior to departing.
Beshear and other members of the delegation met with Taiji Hasegawa, chairman of Hitachi Automotive Products, and other executives from Yamamoto Seisakusko Co. Ltd.
After returning from Japan, Beshear said he expected two-automotive related companies to invest in Kentucky and create several hundred jobs.
"The Japanese presence in Kentucky is of major importance and major significance," Beshear said after returning to Kentucky.
Most delegates flew coach but the Beshears flew business class between Atlanta and Japan. Jane Beshear also flew first class on the return trip from Atlanta to Lexington, according to expense reports.
Most members of the delegation slept in "standard" rooms at the Imperial Hotel, with 330 square feet of space and broadband Internet access, at an average cost of $260 and $380 per night.
The Beshears had their own "deluxe" room, with 650 square feet, at a cost of approximately $500 per night.
According to the hotel's Web site, the Imperial offers a fitness room, swimming pool and sauna and a music room with a Steinway piano.
However, not everything went according to plan for the $31,000 reception on June 11 at the Imperial Hotel.
In one of the few e-mails released to The State Journal in the open records request, it was revealed that plans to provide Kentucky Ale at the event fell through.
"It is just not feasible for a variety of legal reasons," wrote Donna Moloney, an advisor at Alltech Inc. "I am just as disappointed as you must be, " said her e-mail to Japanese officials.
Guests at the Imperial Hotel may also dine at any of the hotel's 13 restaurants, including French, buffet, Chinese, Japanese and sushi options. However, most of the delegates chose to order room service, or eat at the Parkside Diner, which offers pancakes, pork chops, hamburgers, beef curry or fish.
The National Theater which Jane Beshear visited was built in 1997 and hosts a variety of performing arts such as opera, ballet, contemporary dance and drama.
Nagoya Castle was built in 1532 but was destroyed by a bombing raid in World War II and rebuilt in 1959.
Suntory Museum houses 2,000 traditional artifacts and includes a tearoom with traditional paper partition doors. Visitors can participate in a tea ceremony course.
"Surrounded by the skyscrapers of Tokyo Midtown, this is an oasis with a peaceful ambiance in the midst of a metropolis," according to the museum Web site.
The Noritake Museum includes a ceramic pottery and sculpture gallery and several acres of traditional outdoor gardens.