Hilton Head, South Carolina is a beautiful place. I visited there once decades ago as part of a family vacation. I was fourteen years old, and my fondest memory was of the amazing snow cones. While I (clearly) don’t recall every aspect of that family vacation, one thing I’m sure of is that taxpayers did not pay for any part of it.

Can Gov. Josh Shapiro say the same? 

A few months ago, I noticed a curious entry on the official Pennsylvania state flight log. On August 17-18, 2023, the state plane made two separate trips to Hilton Head. First, it went from Harrisburg to Hilton Head on the morning of August 17, then from Hilton Head to Wilkes Barre on the morning of the 18th, then back to Hilton Head on the afternoon of the 18th, and finally back to Harrisburg later that same afternoon. 

The only passengers listed for all those flights were Gov. Shapiro and security, and the purpose of the trip was marked “business.” The cost: $13,151.86. 

Wondering what “business” would seemingly take Shapiro from Pennsylvania to Hilton Head and back to Pennsylvania twice over two days, I submitted a Right-to-Know request to the governor’s office. The office denied my request, while referencing Gov. Shapiro’s attendance at former First Lady Ellen Casey’s funeral on August 18 and claiming “no responsive records” as to whom Shapiro met in South Carolina on this supposed “business” trip. 

I appealed the denial. 

During the appeals process, the governor’s open records officer provided additional information that stated in part: 

“To the best of my knowledge, information and belief, and based upon my personal knowledge and consultation with staff within the Office of the Governor and the Pennsylvania State Police, the Governor traveled to Hilton Head, South Carolina for personal purposes between August 12 and August 26, 2023. During his time in Hilton Head, the Governor learned that former First Lady Casey had passed away. The Governor then traveled to Mrs. Casey’s funeral which was held in Scranton, PA on August 18, 2023 on official Commonwealth business, and then returned to Hilton Head until August 26, 2023.”

In other words, while Shapiro’s administration listed the purpose of the entire trip as “business” on the state flight log, it appears taxpayers paid for Shapiro to travel from Hilton Head to Pa. for business—but then back to Hilton Head for vacation. 

Now, there is some allowance for Shapiro to use the state plane for non-official purposes — even, sometimes, for campaign purposes provided he reimburses the commonwealth. So, I reached out to Shapiro’s press office twice, first on January 10 and then following up on January 12, asking several questions, including the following: 

  • Given the purpose of his travel to Hilton Head was “for personal purposes,” did the governor reimburse the Commonwealth for his personal use of the state plane to travel to Hilton Head? 
  • If he did reimburse the Commonwealth, would you please provide evidence of this reimbursement? 

I received no response. 

Still, it was possible that Shapiro’s 2023 annual campaign finance report, which was due on January 31, 2024, might show a reimbursement from the campaign. It did not. 

Did Shapiro reimburse taxpayers for his flight to Hilton Head out of his own private funds? Or, at the very least, for the portion of the flight that’s greater than the cost of returning to his Pennsylvania home? We have no way of knowing, as he’s not answering questions. 

Unfortunately, this lack of transparency is the norm for our governor. 

For example, Shapiro broke with his predecessors and refused to disclose donors to his inauguration or transition teams. He also required his transition team to sign non-disclosure agreements. He spent over $90,000 on renovations to the governor’s mansion but wanted the purchases kept quiet. He kept his climate change working group shrouded in secrecy for months, with no public minutes required for its meetings. He “quietly entered into a settlement” agreement with a former top aide accused of sexual harassment. The list goes on

Some may say a $13,000 flight is not even half of a drop in the bucket when it comes to billions of dollars in state government spending. Relatively speaking, they’d be right. 

But patterns of secrecy raise concerns. 

We all know that Gov. Shapiro is “competitive.” He constantly reminds us of this. But more than a competitive governor, voters deserve a transparent one.  

Gina Pope is the Public Affairs Director at Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania. www.thecommonwealthpartners.com.

One thought on “Gina L. Pope: Did taxpayers pay for Shapiro’s vacation flight to Hilton Head? ”

  1. Shapiro pushes drugs.
    Shapiro kicks poor children when they are down.
    Shapiro is not a good man.
    Why are you talking about his travel and leisure activities?
    There are many good men who protect Shapiro. Identify their family members and start asking them questions. Violence is never the answer. Vote to make changes. Peacefully ask questions. “Shapiro, why are you a drug pusher?”

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