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Lawmakers getting new cars despite push to pare California's vehicle fleet

Legislators have spent at least $259,000 in taxpayer funds on new SUVs and other vehicles for themselves in the last year despite a push by the new governor and the last one to cut California's fleet amid the state's financial crisis.

January 15, 2011|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento — Lawmakers have spent at least $259,000 in taxpayer funds on new SUVs and other vehicles for themselves in the last year despite a push by the new governor and the last one to cut California's fleet amid the state's financial crisis.

Newly elected Assemblyman Luis Alejo (D- Salinas) is taking delivery of a 2011 Ford Escape Hybrid, worth $37,269. More than $32,000 went to buy a 2011 Ford Edge for freshman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), a "tea party" activist and the Legislature's most strident conservative. And Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), who was reelected, is now behind the wheel of a 2011 Ford Mustang worth $24,657.

The Assembly bought cars for eight legislators in the last year. An additional 24 new lawmakers are eligible to get new cars but have not yet asked for one, officials said.

The state Senate has not provided a roster requested last month of its new car purchases.

The expenditures are "an ongoing symptom of how out of touch legislators are with normal Californians," said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. " Sacramento operates as if it is another planet. They continue to have a party-hearty attitude."

The same lawmakers will be taking up Gov. Jerry Brown's plans to cut the government's vehicle fleet of 13,600, which he says is too large. "To reduce the number of vehicles in the state's fleet, the administration will require each vehicle's purpose and necessity to be rejustified," according to the budget Brown released Monday.

To pare the fleet, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sold off hundreds of cars in 2009.

The most expensive new car was purchased for Alejo. The assemblyman wanted to get a hybrid for environmental reasons, and needed a new car because he drives from his district to Sacramento and back every week — unlike many of his colleagues who fly home, spokeswoman Marva Diaz said.

"He is driving it a ton," she said.

Galgiani had been driving a 4-year-old Ford Crown Victoria that had 145,000 miles on it and had begun having mechanical problems, according to Robin Adam, a spokesman for the assemblywoman.

"It was starting to require a lot of service," Adam said.

The state buys the vehicles, then spreads part of the purchase price over a three- or four-year "lease" to the lawmaker, factoring in depreciation. The state pays most of the monthly cost out of the Assembly budget. The new lawmakers are paying $83 to $109 a month toward the lease, depending on the car.

More than 40 other Assembly members also have state-purchased cars, but the vehicles were purchased before 2010.

Vosburgh suggested newly elected lawmakers use the cars that had been assigned to their predecessors, or borrow an existing car from the state's massive fleet.

But the Legislature buys its own cars for members, separately from the state's general vehicle fleet that is under the power of the governor. Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D- Los Angeles), victorious in a special election last year, asked about getting an existing state car but was not given that option by Assembly staff, said spokesman John Ferrera.

He said the assemblyman "went for the next most responsible thing," a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid that cost $32,848.

Donnelly also was not offered the use of an existing state car, a spokesman said.

Jon Waldie, the Assembly's chief administrative officer, said freshman members were given a list of former members' vehicles, but many of those cars had too many miles on them.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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