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Move to curb legislator car allowance

June 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
While the state is threatened with financial meltdown, questions are being raised over lawmakers' cars provided by the taxpayers. Some lawmakers are defending the practice.State Senator Ron Calderon is this year's poster boy for the car allowance controversy. He drives the most expensive car in the Legislature: a 2006 Cadillac STS luxury sedan. The car is valued at nearly $55,000, which he uses in his large Southern Californian district.

Taxpayers pay for the first $350 of the monthly lease. Lawmakers pay anything over. Senator Calderon pays $311 a month out of pocket.

Eyewitness News Reporter Nannette Miranda: "Is it right to be driving around a $50,000 Cadillac in these tight budget times?"

"It suits me because I drive a lot in this district. I drive long distances. I am a big guy and it is a comfortable car," said Senator Calderon.

Republicans do it too. State Senator Bob Huff, who declined to comment, drives a 2008 Cadillac CTS valued at $41,000. The Minority Leader, though, says the current way is cheaper than mileage reimbursements.

"It actually saves money that way. But I think you are right, it is worth taking a look at again to see what is the most efficient use of the taxpayer dollars," said Senator Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Senate Minority Leader.

Even with 17 lawmakers declining a state car, it still costs taxpayers more than $3 million over three years, including gas and crash repairs.

A coalition of churches is protesting the additional deep cuts to social programs to the poor. The car allowance, which is on top the lawmakers' six figure salaries and $35,000 in tax-free per diem, stunned the demonstrators.

"I couldn't afford a car that cost $40,000 or $50,000. They should be driving economical cars, not the luxury crap they're driving. It's immoral," said Jim Scurlock, Council of Churches.

Senator Calderon says don't judge an elected official just by the car he drives.

"You have to look at how am I serving the state of California? What have I done? Look at my legislative record," said Senator Calderon.

A independent citizens' commission is set to vote Friday on an 18-percent pay cut for lawmakers and cuts to health benefits. They already don't get a pension.

The decision to take away car allowances falls on the Rules Committee, which is made of lawmakers. So lawmakers would have to vote on whether to take the cars away from themselves.

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