A Sacramento Bee investigation found two of the state's largest agencies doled out $5.5 million for new vehicles this year, only to let them sit idle, collecting dust for months.
"In the best of all worlds, we like things to flow as well as we can, so we get the vehicles out, but sometimes that's not always the case," said Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco.
Rocco says Caltrans has to modify or add after-market equipment to meet workers' needs, and that takes months.
Sometimes retrofit projects are put on hold because of changing priorities.
Jeffrey Young, spokesman for the California State Department of General Services, was asked if the state was letting new cars sit idle. "Well, we did have them sitting idle for a few months. That's absolutely true," said Young.
At the Department of General Services, 50 brand new Priuses costing more than a million dollars sat on the roof of the state garage since February until the Bee began asking questions.
Now they're finally being converted into plug-in hybrids after waiting for federal stimulus money, but that doesn't explain why state workers couldn't have at least driven them in the meantime.
"In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to put them in the daily rental fleet," said Young.
This isn't the first time the state has had this problem.
In 2007, the state auditor found that the California Highway Patrol wasted nearly a million dollars by letting 51 vans sit while waiting for police equipment to be installed.
All this idle time infuriates families who've seen public education cut to the core.
"Why do they need to have brand new cars? Why can't they fix the ones they've got?" asked Nancy Feri, a California resident and concerned grandparent.
When asked about spending that money later to save for public programs now, Young replied, "You're right. The budget process is complex."
The state says it has to keep replacing its fleet because some vehicles don't meet environmental regulations anymore, and sometimes it becomes cheaper to buy a new car than maintain the old one.