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Jerry Brown orders California agencies to halt new car purchases

The governor also wants vehicles that are not 'essential' for state business to be sold. He says the action is needed at a time when California faces a $25.4-billion budget shortfall.

January 29, 2011|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Sacramento — Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday ordered government agencies to halt new car purchases and sell automobiles that are not "essential" for state business as he launched an effort to cut the number of state-owned passenger vehicles.

The governor said the state needs to reduce spending at a time when it is facing a $25.4-billion budget shortfall.

"There is a lot of wasteful spending on cars that aren't even driven," Brown said in a statement. "And we can't afford to spend taxpayer money on new cars while California faces such a massive deficit."

Brown, who uses his state-owned 2008 Pontiac for work, wants to make a 50% cut in the 11,000 passenger cars and light trucks used mostly by bureaucrats. The state owns 50,000 cars, trucks, vans, buses, boats and aircraft, said Elizabeth Ashford, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Exempted from the order are vehicles used by health and public safety agencies — including the California Highway Patrol — and all heavy-duty trucks such as those used by Caltrans. About 4,500 of the targeted vehicles are permitted to be driven home at night, a number Brown also wants to halve.

Brown's order could save the state about $16.5 million annually, according to Eric Lamoureux, a spokesman for the Department of General Services. He said the savings might be even greater because the governor's order asks all departments to evaluate their fleets for possible additional reductions.

Taxpayer advocates praised Brown's action — which follows a recent directive to reduce by half the number of state-owned cellphones — but said it does not go far enough to persuade them to drop their opposition to his bid for an extension of recent tax hikes to help balance the budget.

"He is making some correct moves on the margins," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. "But at the end of the day, it's going to take a lot more to get voters to believe the majority party is serious about reforms."

Coupal said his group wants the governor to take on pension systems and other big-ticket expenditures.

State cars have been the subject of controversy in recent years.

A 2007 review by the state auditor found dozens of new vans that sat "virtually unused'' for months because they were not yet needed or were awaiting retrofitting.

Later, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered about 4,000 surplus vehicles to be sold. The film-star-turned-politician helped the state raise about $6.4 million by autographing many of the cars that were on the auction block.

Two weeks ago, the auditor found that a general services manager improperly used state vehicles for his daily commute for nine years, costing the state at least $12,379. His most recent car was taken away.

Brown's order requires state agencies to review the need for sending each car home at night and to cancel permits deemed unnecessary. Some managers and employees who have to be on call after hours to respond to emergencies may be justified in taking vehicles home at night, officials said.

Administrators are being ordered to sell non-essential vehicles within 120 days. The union representing most state workers, including many inspectors, will monitor the vehicle sell-off to make sure employees are not hindered in carrying out important services, said Jim Zamora, a union spokesman.

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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