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State officials on business junket
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ATLANTA -- Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue is traveling to Europe for a weeklong economic development trip, even as he's asking state agencies to cut back on travel amid the state's budget crunch.

The taxpayer funded trip will take Perdue and a delegation of roughly 20 officials and aides to Spain, Portugal and Italy. The price tag is expected to top $100,000.

Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley defended the travel, saying the governor was hopeful it would yield jobs and investment in the state.

"This is the same thing that businesses do when sales are down," Brantley said Wednesday. "You don't stop advertising. You don't stop marketing. It's even more important to get the message out now."

Brantley did not have a price tag for the trip, but said it is expected to cost about $5,500 per person. The Georgia officials will leave Saturday and return the following Friday.

Perdue has ordered state agencies to slash their budgets by 6 percent to close a projected $1.6 billion shortfall for the fiscal year that began July 1. As part of the cost-savings he has directed the agencies to trim nonessential travel, but left it up to the departments to determine what that entails.

Alan Essig, executive director of the nonpartisan Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said Perdue's travel in the midst of the budget woes was "more a symbol than anything else."

"He's going to Europe while other state employees are being told to stay put," Essig said.

Still, Essig said the costs are only a drop in the bucket, given the state's deep financial hole. Essig said he's willing to give Perdue the benefit of the doubt that the trip will be worth the taxpayer dollars.

Perdue's delegation includes state Economic Development Commissioner Ken Stewart, state Transportation Commissioner Gena Evans and Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Dick Anderson.

State Sen. Jeff Mullis and state Rep. Vance Smith, who chair their chamber's respective transportation committees, will also be on part of the trip.

The trip is heavy on transportation and infrastructure meetings.

While in Madrid, Perdue will meet with executives from Cintra, a Spanish company known for its infrastructure development. He'll also tour a pair of Spanish public-private road projects. Officials with Pirelli are on the agenda in Milan. The Italian tire company has a plant in Rome, Ga.

It will be Perdue's 16th international trip since he became governor in 2002. His travels to Korea helped him lure a Kia Motor Co. plant to west Georgia. He has also had success attracting investment from China, where he traveled earlier this year.

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