BATON ROUGE, La. — Only part of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ trip to meet the Pope in Rome will be paid by Louisiana’s taxpayers.
The governor’s office said Edwards will personally pay travel costs for him and his wife on the weeklong trip that was scheduled to begin Friday. The costs of the governor’s state police bodyguards will be paid by the state.
Edwards announced the trip late Thursday, saying he will meet with an order of nuns working to combat human trafficking, the Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy, and talk about the effort with Pope Francis. At the time of the announcement, the governor’s office said the state would be picking up the tab for Edwards’ travel.
“It was miscommunication on the staff level about how he was funding his trip. The governor fully intends to pay for his own travel,” Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said Friday. “This is something he intended to do all along.”
The Republican Party of Louisiana has criticized the trip on social media, noting news of the travel plans came only hours before the state officially recognized a $313 million budget deficit.
The Hospitaler Sisters of Mercy are building a shelter in Baton Rouge for juvenile victims of human trafficking, a facility that will be called Metanoia House. The governor’s office said Edwards and his wife Donna, devout Catholics, want to assist in the effort to stop human trafficking and encourage such collaborations between churches and states.
Louisiana State Police Col. Mike Edmonson and his wife; Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego; and Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, and his wife also will travel to Italy. The state isn’t expected to pay travel expenses for any of them.
“We are doing some very incredible work on the human trafficking initiative. I expect some good stuff to come out of this trip,” said Johns, who has sponsored several anti-trafficking bills.
Edmonson’s expenses will be covered by Metanoia, while his wife’s costs will be paid personally, according to state police spokesman Maj. Doug Cain.
Alario said he’ll pay his travel costs out of his campaign account. Johns said a small part of his trip will be covered by his campaign account and the rest of his travel — along with his wife’s expenses — will be paid with their own money.
“No taxpayer dollars are going to pay for my trip, not one penny,” Johns said.
The group returns to Louisiana on Jan. 20.