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Schwarzenegger orders 15% cut in state's vehicle fleet

The governor's action follows a critical audit revealing that possibly thousands of workers are given government cars to take home at night without justification.

July 18, 2009|Patrick McGreevy

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered a large reduction in the fleet of state vehicles Friday after an audit revealed that possibly thousands of state workers have been given government cars to drive home at night without justification.

The number of employees reported with take-home cars has increased up to 20% during the last three years, according to records obtained by The Times. The state allows 8,662 workers to have such cars, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars amid the state's financial crisis, the records show.

The trend in the private sector has been to reduce such perks, said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.

Schwarzenegger, who many days is driven across the street by a California Highway Patrol motorcade from the Capitol to the hotel that is his home in Sacramento, issued his executive order Friday after receiving the audit. Allegations about the misuse of state vehicles also had been made through a government website soliciting reports of waste and misdeeds.

"Today I am taking action to get rid of waste and abuse in the state's vehicle fleet and ordering my administration to reduce the [entire] fleet by 15%, eliminate all wasteful home storage permits and sell surplus cars at our state garage sale next month," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.

The fleet reduction will save at least $24.1 million the first year, according to the Department of General Services.

A self-critical audit by Caltrans found that in 38% of the permits tested, "the permit holder did not appear to have a justified or documented need for the permit." If that percentage were applied to all take-home cars, it would mean more than 3,200 of the cars are being driven home by workers without justification. Schwarzenegger ordered that the number of take-home cars be cut by at least 20%. Home permits are supposed to be given to workers based on demonstrated need, such as a job assignment that requires them to respond to after-hour emergencies.

"Maintenance managers and superintendents who had minimal recorded emergency call-outs were listed as third, fourth or fifth responders for emergency situations," states the audit by Caltrans' Division of Audits and Investigations.

Some workers said they needed take-home cars to minimize overtime, but auditors found they had worked little or no overtime before they were given a permit. Others were given permits after claiming that state parking was not secure, but auditors found the parking was behind gates.

Some managers approved their own permits. Caltrans reported that 680 of its employees had permits to take vehicles home three years ago, but 1,643 have permits today.

Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco blamed "under-reporting the number of permits" issued three years ago, but could not provide a different tally.

People have reported to the state's Waste Watchers website that it appears some government cars have been used for personal business. Specific reports are under investigation, state officials said.

Meanwhile, the governor and legislative leaders met Friday in an effort to plug California's $26.3-billion deficit. Education financing and welfare cuts remained sticking points.

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patrick.mcgreevy @latimes.com

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