California lawmakers lose taxpayer-funded car perk

The Sacramento BeeApril 15, 2011 

BURBANK — California legislators no longer will receive a car, gas and maintenance paid largely by taxpayers.

The state's independent compensation commission voted Thursday to replace the existing program in December with a $300 monthly allowance to defray legislators' costs of driving their personal vehicles.

Commissioner Chuck Murray, who was replaced as chairman Wednesday night, noted that California is the only state to provide all lawmakers with a vehicle of their choice. The program is overly generous, he said.

"We feel the pendulum has swung too far to the left, and we're trying to bring it back to the middle," Murray said. "The way they reimburse for cars went out in the private sector eight to 10 years ago."

Switching to a set car allowance, costing about $432,000 annually, would cut the state's current expense for legislative cars roughly in half, according to Commissioner John Stites II, who pushed the idea.

Some lawmakers said the commission had created an unfair "one-size-fits-all" system that doesn't account for lawmakers who have huge districts.

"I think they're kind of operating in la-la land," said Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa. "They don't really understand the difference between a rural six-county district and a very small geographic district in Los Angeles."

Evans, who does not own her own car, said she relies on her state vehicle for constituent events and logs more than 2,000 miles a week traveling her expansive North Coast district on state business. "Without a car, I'm not going to be able to do that," she said.

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