Few tears are being shed – outside the state Capitol – for our legislators, who have lost a valued perk.
The California Compensation Commission ruled last week that lawmakers, as of December, no longer will drive cars bought for them by the state's taxpayers.
California is the only state that still buys cars picked out by its legislators and "leases" them to the lawmakers. The state also pays for maintenance, repairs and unlimited gasoline for any Assembly or Senate member who wants it.
The much-maligned perk will be replaced by a $300-a-month car allowance.
It will save about $2.1 million over five years, a piddling amount compared to the vast state budget deficit that lawmakers are unable to close. But it packs a symbolic wallop and, as Doug Heller, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, said, "I would much rather see that money go toward textbooks or health services than for some legislator's car." Who wouldn't?
To their credit, a few Assembly members and senators turned down the perk, using their own cars to get around. But none from around here.
In fact, even "tea party" favorite Tim Donnelly, probably the Assembly's most conservative member since he joined the body in December, got himself a 2011 Ford Edge – for which taxpayers paid more than $32,000 – to drive around his 59th District. Conceptual conservatism is one thing, personal conservatism another.
State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Walnut, has local bragging rights for the most expensive state-purchased vehicle, a $41,300 2008 Cadillac CTS. He is outdone by Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Monterey Park, in his $54,800 2006 Cadillac STS.
Legislators do contribute toward their cars if the price exceeds the state allowance; Huff said last year that he pays $145 a month for his car.
But gallingly, the state has paid for repairs when legislators – or even their family members – get into accidents. A Sacramento Bee review found 122 claims filed by legislators over the past five years, costing taxpayers more than $768,000. (Donnelly's predecessor, former Assemblyman Anthony Adams, had four
mishaps, amounting to less than $12,000 total. Some legislators' driving proved much more expensive.)
The San Francisco Chronicle reported in January that taxpayers paid $295,624 for lawmakers' gasoline credit-card purchases in 2010. The L.A. Times reported the state spent at least $259,000 that year to buy them new vehicles.
We do feel bad for legislators in one respect. A lawmaker like Donnelly – who will have to cover a sprawling, gerrymandered district that stretches from Apple Valley to Arcadia on $300 a month – must look with envy upon Upland City Manager Robb Quincey, who gets $950 a month from Upland taxpayers to finance his travels around that 15.3-square-mile city.