State lawmakers want to keep their cars (the ones you pay for)
December 3, 2010
California remains the only state in the nation to provide vehicles to its rank-and-file lawmakers for unlimited use and it’s a policy not likely to change in the near future. [AP]
The state purchases cars for lawmakers like Sam Blakeslee and Katcho Achadjian to drive around their districts and Sacramento under a decades-old program, spending more than $5 million for the latest suite of vehicles that includes a $55,000 Cadillac sedan and a $52,000 Lexus hybrid.
Lawmakers are enjoying the benefit at a time when the state is in a financial mess and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called legislators into a special session next week to address a $6 billion deficit. Lawmakers already have cut programs such as adult dental care and health care programs for children from low-income families, and more cuts are likely on the way.
The compensation and benefits given to California lawmakers has come under intense criticism in the past year. Legislative officials fought an 18 percent cut in lawmakers’ pay and benefits in 2009 while other state employees were enduring three-day-a-month furloughs.
The reductions eventually were approved, along with lowering monthly vehicle allowances for lawmakers.
Taxpayers spent $3.5 million to buy the 99 vehicles lawmakers use when they visit their home districts.
The 80-member Assembly spent another $1.4 million to buy 49 Toyota Camry Hybrids for 51 lawmakers who live far from the state capital and use the vehicles when they are in Sacramento. The Senate, which has 40 members, spends an additional $81,000 a year to lease 25 vehicles for senators’ use in Sacramento.
Lawmakers pay a percentage of their vehicle’s cost – 10 percent for less expensive vehicles and more for higher-end models – through a payroll deduction. Taxpayers pick up the rest while also paying the gasoline costs for lawmakers, who are given state-issued charge cards.
The Legislature buys the vehicles outright, then leases them to lawmakers at a state-subsidized rate. The Legislature determines the amount lawmakers must pay above the monthly vehicle allowance, if any, and deducts that from their paychecks.
The Senate will review the vehicle program as it seeks to reduce its operating costs for the third consecutive year, Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said Friday.