Arizona House Speaker David Gowan last month repaid the state more than $12,000 for mileage reimbursements he claimed for trips that he took in state vehicles and for days he claimed to work but did not.
Gowan repaid the travel reimbursement money after the Arizona Capitol Times published a Jan. 8 article detailing the increase of state fleet vehicle use by top Republican lawmakers and their staff. The speaker declined to comment on the issue.
House Republican caucus spokesperson Stephanie Grisham said after the Capitol Times published its investigation into Gowan and other lawmakers’ use of state fleet vehicles, the speaker instructed House staff to comb through his personal mileage reimbursement claims and cross reference those records with his fleet vehicle use to look for any travel reimbursements.
On Jan. 12, Gowan wrote a personal check to repay the state for the travel reimbursements and per diem payments he should not have claimed.
Grisham said $9,683 was due to reimbursements Gowan claimed for miles driven in a state vehicle, not a personal vehicle, and overestimating the distance on trips in his own car. Another $727 was repaid for using state fleet vehicles for personal business.
The repayment also included $1,655 for days he had claimed to work but did not.
Grisham said the largest error happened after Gowan’s assistant “assumed incorrectly” that he was driving his personal vehicle when in fact he was using a state-owned vehicle.
“The lack of communication among staff accounts for the vast majority of over-reimbursement,” Grisham wrote in an email.
Lawmakers are required to file travel reimbursement forms in order to qualify for the repayments, though the old form, which the House has since changed, did not require a lawmaker’s signature. The House has not provided those forms in response to a Jan. 19 public records request.
Grisham said House staff also reviewed Gowan’s use of state fleet vehicles, and found that every fleet rental was “supported by” valid business travel. But she acknowledged that, in some instances, the “rental period exceeded what appeared to be the necessary length of time to fulfill the travel requirement.”
“To err on the side of caution, the Speaker wanted to reimburse the state for even those kinds of scenarios,” she said.
State law is strict on the use of state vehicles, and it even prohibits state employees and lawmakers from using the vehicles for normal commuting to and from home. Using a state vehicle for personal business is a Class 2 misdemeanor under state law.
House staff also reviewed travel records for House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, Republican Rep. Darin Mitchell and House Sergeant-at-arms Billy Cloud, and found no improper travel reimbursements while they were driving state vehicles, Grisham said.
The review of Gowan’s records also showed another $1,655 in per-diem payments made to Gowan for “unconfirmed events on the speaker’s calendar,” Grisham said.
“In every case where doubt existed, we resolved it in favor of disqualifying the per diem,” she said.
The Arizona Capitol Times filed public records requests for documents detailing Gowan’s reimbursements from the state for daily per-diem payments and personal vehicle use on Jan. 19 and 28, but the House has not provided those records. A portion of those requests is expected to be filled Feb. 25, Grisham said.
Grisham acknowledged Gowan repaid the travel reimbursements in a Feb. 18 email, in response to questions about irregular repayments for House travel expenses listed in the Arizona Department of Administration’s General Accounting Office’s records.
The per diem repayment was disclosed in a Feb. 23 email.
“There is no indication that the speaker knowingly or intentionally claimed non-reimbursable mileage; he directed us to review the records; and he promptly repaid the over-reimbursement amount when the error was revealed,” she wrote in a follow-up email.
State law dictates that, in order to receive reimbursements for travel expenses and per diem, lawmakers “shall submit a claim therefore countersigned by the presiding officer of the respective body.”
Grisham said Gowan didn’t personally sign his per diem claim forms, which are processed with a digital signature by the speaker’s designee.
The House has not provided those per diem claim forms in response to a Jan. 28 public records request made of both legislative chambers. The Senate provided detailed records of mileage and per-diem claims on Feb. 5.