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THE RECALL CAMPAIGN

With His Expenses, Senator Tallies Some Inconsistencies

September 21, 2003|Paul Pringle | Times Staff Writer

Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock long ago established himself as one of Sacramento's most articulate promoters of a cheaper, smaller, community-based government whose leaders are disciplined by term limits.

But an examination of McClintock's expenses and other records shows some contradictions between his words and actions.

The longtime legislator says he is the Capitol's leading crusader for cutting the budget. His own office payroll, however, is the 11th highest in the 40-member Senate, at about $42,400 a month. (The biggest is $47,800; the smallest $29,400.)

McClintock said his 10 employees have many years of experience and are paid accordingly.

He is more frugal elsewhere. In 2001, the last year for which complete figures are available, his total expenditures -- on everything from salaries to copy machines -- were 12th from the bottom in the Senate, at $613,000.

His field-office expenses ranged near the Senate's lowest in 2001, as did his bills for air travel to his district.

The 19th Senate District encompasses most of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, and part of the Santa Clarita Valley in Los Angeles County. McClintock's lone field office is in Thousand Oaks, on the eastern edge of Ventura County, about 100 miles from the outer reaches of the district.

About half the Senate's members maintain two field offices, typically because the senators represent multiple counties.

McClintock's Republican predecessor, Cathie Wright, who retired because of term limits, also had a single field office. But she said that, unlike McClintock, she lived in her district and returned there every week of the legislative session.

"He's never down here," Wright said of McClintock, with whom she has feuded for years.

For the last decade, McClintock has lived year-round in the Sacramento area, even during his 1992-96 break from the Legislature.

McClintock said he visits his district every other week. Senate billing records show that he averages less than one airline trip per month, but campaign aide John Stoos said McClintock frequently drives the 390 miles.

Senators receive an allowance to fly to their districts four times a month, when the Legislature is in session. They can charge the state for out-of-session flights.

McClintock owns a condominium in Thousand Oaks. The two-story stucco building on Alessandro Drive is his official address. But several Alessandro residents were surprised to learn that their senator was a neighbor.

"No, really?" said Lisa Bidwell, whose condo is a few doors from McClintock's.

He rents a house in the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove, where he lives in a gated community with his wife, Lori, and their two children. He pays for the home with the Legislature's tax-free "per diem," a $26,000 annual stipend.

Lawmakers are granted the per diem on top of their $99,000 salaries, primarily for temporary housing in Sacramento -- usually apartments for the eight-month legislative session.

Senate and Assembly members whose homes are within 50 miles of the Capitol must pay state and federal taxes on the per diem if they take it. Three of the four legislators from greater Sacramento decline the per diem.

McClintock, who lives about 20 miles from the Capitol, said he is entitled to the untaxed per diem because Thousand Oaks is his legal home.

"My situation is no different than any other legislator," he said. "The only other difference is, we chose to rent a house rather than an apartment."

He also said he lives in Elk Grove so he can have more time with his family.

That doesn't impress Wright.

"I had a family too -- a teenaged daughter and a disabled husband," she said.

In the Legislature, she said, "All these people have families."

In Sacramento, McClintock uses a free car from the state motor pool. A state-leased car is also assigned to him in his district. Together, with occasional auto rentals, they cost taxpayers about $790 a month, not counting gas and maintenance.

During 2001, the latest year for which comparisons are available, McClintock's fixed expenses for the leased and pool cars (a category that includes rentals) were third and 14th highest in the Senate, respectively.

McClintock pointed out that his leased car, a 1998 Mercury Grand Marquis, is one of the oldest in the state fleet.

Over the years, he has had a change of heart about free cars for lawmakers. In 1990, he proposed eliminating them. "Surely they can pay for their own cars," he said then.

The senator also has rethought term limits. He said they have failed to rid the Legislature of spendthrifts. "There were some expectations that were wrong," he said.

Voters approved the limits in 1990, capping Assembly service at six years and Senate tenure at eight. They did not apply retroactively, so McClintock was able to rejoin the Assembly in 1996, after he had served there from 1982 to 1992. He was elected to the upper house in 2000.

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