TALLAHASSEE — When dignitaries visit Florida, it's Florida taxpayers who pay.
In a little-noticed and long-standing tradition, the state of Florida provides security to dozens of politicians who visit the Sunshine State on business and personal trips, even though the visitors bring their own protection.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement spent almost $300,000 in the fiscal year ending June 30 to pay for salaries, transportation, lodging and other costs related to 96 appearances by U.S. senators, members of Congress, senior White House officials and 38 governors. Among the visitors were California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, New York Gov. David Paterson, the first lady of Puerto Rico, the premier of Ontario and former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
FDLE calls it part of a reciprocal agreement with other states to guarantee the safety of high-profile leaders, and the agency says Florida politicians receive the same level of security when they are on the road.
"Florida being a destination state, we generally get many more dignitary visits,'' said FDLE spokeswoman Heather Smith.
So when the estranged wife of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford went to her parents' gated home in Hobe Sound in late June to escape her philandering husband, Florida taxpayers picked up the $623 cost of Jenny Sanford's security escort.
When Rhode Island Gov. Don Carcieri heads to his Stuart condo for some downtime, FDLE agents are waiting in their familiar dark-colored SUVs to guide him to and from the airport.
And when Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour spoke to a Florida road builders' association at The Grand at Sandestin Resort near Destin in May, he got an FDLE escort to and from the local airport, at a cost of $561.
"My understanding is that it's a gentlemen's agreement,'' said the governor's spokesman, Dan Turner. "He flew in late that afternoon and he flew out that night.''
Visiting dignitaries' security costs were considerably higher in 2008-09 than the previous year because Miami was the site of a four-day meeting last November of the Republican Governors Association, hosted by Gov. Charlie Crist. In addition to providing security to each visiting governor, FDLE spent $70,000 in security advances and protection details at a Miami hotel and other conference sites.
The law enforcement agency generally declined to provide details on the officials' visits, citing a broad public records exemption for security matters. FDLE is required by law to file an annual report with the governor and Legislature on how much it costs to protect the governor, first lady, Governor's Mansion and visiting leaders.
Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com.