Californian officials grilled over $75 million in expenditures during fiscal crisis

California lawmakers grilled state officials Wednesday over $75 million spent for vehicles, furniture and conferences last year while the state was slashing school, health and social service programs.

The purchases by key public agencies came during one of the worst fiscal crises in state history.

"We've got to answer to our constituents – and they're screaming at us," Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, said of state spending.

Wednesday's three-hour hearing by the Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee targeted $43.4 million spent for vehicles last year, $29.4 million for furniture, and $2.2 million for conferences or meetings.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year ordered departments to cut spending for contracts or purchases by 15 percent, and not to buy non-emergency vehicles.

Testifying Wednesday, a parade of state officials justified their purchases, offering differing explanations but the same message: No money was wasted, all purchases were justified, and the cuts required by Schwarzenegger were made.

Lawmakers were stymied at interpreting the mountain of purchases, in part, because the database from which it was acquired did not cover prior years. They could not tell whether more or less had been spent.

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