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Wednesday, 1 August, 2001, 11:32 GMT 12:32 UK
Harris investigated over foreign budget
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris
Harris has made 10 foreign trips since taking office
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris is to be investigated after her office's spending on international relations soared to $3.4m.

A special committee will examine whether the office should pull out of the policy - aimed at boosting Florida's international trade - and place it in the hands of a development agency.

Ms Harris' own bill for foreign trips has totalled more than $100,000. During her first 22 months in office, she visited eight countries at taxpayers' expense.

Ms Harris' trips

Ms Harris, a Republican, has defended her foreign visits, saying fostering links with other countries is important for Florida's economy.

"This review provides us with a tremendous opportunity to help taxpayers understand how our innovative programs are working on behalf of Floridians to create opportunities and additional tax revenues to fund our state's priorities, which include education and election reform," she said in a statement which welcomed the inquiry.

During last year's controversial presidential election, Ms Harris faced accusations that she had used her position to swing the contested poll in the Republicans' favour.

Votes are recounted in Florida
Democrats criticised Ms Harris' role in the election recount
Democrats were furious that she imposed deadlines on the recounting process, which they said destroyed any chance of producing accurate final counts in marginal areas.

Republicans praised her handling of the crisis.

But in the row over international affairs, some Republicans have joined the criticism directed against her.

Her policies have included creating Florida's first Office of Protocol, dedicated to international affairs.

Ms Harris had asked for more than $5m for foreign relations this year but legislators denied her request.

Under Ms Harris, Florida's international affairs budget has risen from $783,000 in 1999, to $3.4m in 2000-2001.

Since she was elected in 1998, Ms Harris has made 10 foreign trips during which she has stayed in luxury hotels.

Budget row

The Senate insisted on an investigation after the House refused to reassign Ms Harris' budget to the state's economy development agency.

A review committee will be appointed by Senate President John McKay, House Speaker Tom Feeney and state Governor Jeb Bush.

Ms Harris has frequently stressed the importance of foreign relations to Florida.

In a speech last April, she said of all her duties: "None is closer to my heart than the strengthening of our international relationships".

See also:

12 Jan 01 | Americas
Harris defends Florida poll
15 Nov 00 | Americas
Profile: King-maker accused of bias
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