California may reconsider car perk for lawmakers

The Sacramento BeeApril 4, 2011 

California is the only state that provides lawmakers with a car, gas and maintenance paid largely by taxpayers.

The perk has withstood the recessionary economy and several rounds of budget-cutting, including $11.2 billion in measures the Legislature approved and Gov. Jerry Brown signed in March.

The cost in relation to California's remaining $15.4 billion budget shortfall is small – less than $1 million a year. Lawmakers say they've done the calculations, and switching to making mileage payments for driving in a large state like California could prove even more expensive.

It nonetheless promises to be a hot topic at the April 14 meeting of the independent commission that sets salaries and benefits for California's statewide elected officials.

Cost-cutting possibilities range from providing a specific and lower monthly stipend to eliminating legislators' lease cars and reimbursing them for business miles driven, said Charles Murray, head of the California Citizens Compensation Commission.

Under a long-standing practice, the state Legislature buys a vehicle of each lawmaker's choosing. Legislators pay a share of costs to lease the vehicle, and public funds pay for gas and maintenance.

"It's seems to me that's excessive," said Murray, who helped lead a push to cut legislative salaries and benefits by 18 percent in 2009.

He said a tone for frugality was set months ago by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who ordered cuts in the number of state-issued cellphones and cars. Brown's order does not apply to the Legislature, which is a separate branch of government.

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