Security spending up for governor, dignitaries

Florida Governor's Mansion (Photo: News Service of Florida)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida taxpayers spent just over $4.3 million in one year to protect the occupants of the governor’s mansion and various visiting dignitaries, according to state records released last week.

The total for the fiscal year that ended June 30 is a $1 million jump from the previous year, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement report shows.

More than half of the increase -- $549,063.70 -- can be attributed to the cost to cover Gov. Ron DeSantis, as he transitioned into office following the November election.

The figures in the annual "Report of Transportation and Protective Services" represent what was spent protecting former Gov. Rick Scott, DeSantis, their families, the governor’s mansion, and select officials who traveled throughout Florida. The report doesn’t outline how the security details were manned or operated, and doesn't break down the spending on each governor.

The spending is topped by $3.05 million for the salary of law enforcement officers who provided security for the governor, and $596,349 for costs tied to transportation.

It’s unclear how future transportation costs will be impacted by the state’s purchase of a nine-passenger jet. FDLE officials recently agreed to spend $15.5 million to buy a Cessna Citation Latitude from Textron Aviation Inc., to replace the twin-engine King Air the agency had used to ferry DeSantis around the state.

Scott, who is now a U.S. senator, sold the state planes upon taking office as governor in 2011. Scott, the wealthiest governor in Florida history, used his personal aircraft to travel.

The state acquired the King Air -- which had a serious mechanical issue while taking DeSantis to Miami shortly after the Republican governor’s inauguration in January -- from the federal government for $10,000 in 2016.

Protection for the first ladies the past fiscal year came to $319,278. But that figure could increase in the current year, as First Lady Casey DeSantis has taken a more active role in policy issues than former First Lady Ann Scott, which could lead to more travel and appearances.

Another $37,461 was spent providing security for the “first family,” and $236,949 was spent to man the governor’s mansion and grounds, according to the records.

The first family’s security costs for the current year could also grow, with the addition of the DeSantis’ two young children to the governor’s mansion. The Scotts’ children were adults who lived on their own while the former governor and his wife resided at 700 North Adams Street in Tallahassee.

The report also provides glimpses of security given to other individuals worthy of state protection or for whom “failure to provide security or transportation could result in a clear and present danger to the personal safety of such persons or could result in public embarrassment to the state.”

Most of the security coverage for out-of-state dignitaries came during official visits, such as Vice President Michael Pence’s March appearance in Jacksonville, which drew a state law-enforcement tab of $300.39. Some items are listed as "personal" trips to the Sunshine State, such as the premier of Ontario’s late December trip to Miami, which cost Florida taxpayers $1,135.50.

Included in the cost for "visiting dignitaries" coverage is $66,036 previously reported to protect Cabinet members -- Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried -- while on a state mission with DeSantis to Israel at the end of May. Security for DeSantis on the Israel trip has yet to be broken out.

Other security spending in Florida also included coverage for the governors of Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia, on personal or official trips to the state.

And the state spent more than $8,000 providing security during eight visits to Florida by former Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in 2017. The embattled governor left office earlier this month, resigning after the publication of embarrassing chat messages.