State spends more than $500,000 on new cars

SACRAMENTO That's more than 3,300 cars in less than a year off the books, saving the state money for gas and maintenance costs.

"We've cut about 18 percent of our fleet," said Eric Lamoureux, spokesman for the /*California Department of General Services*/. "We've cut about 67 percent of our vehicle purchasing as a result of the governor's order, so a lot of savings for state government."

But just as the state made gains, the Legislature spent half a million dollars for new cars. Eighteen lawmakers got 2009 or 2010 models.

Taxpayer groups are outraged over the spending when ordinary people are still struggling in this recession.

"This is a Legislature that is the highest paid in America. This continues to show how they're disconnected from the rest of the state," said Jon Coupal, the /*Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association*/.

The /*California Citizens Compensation Commission*/ found the most expensive new vehicle in the Assembly is being driven by Democrat Pedro Nava, who chose to drive a Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which cost more than $48,000.

In the Senate, Republican Dave Cogdill, whose district spans six counties, is driving in a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, which cost nearly $39,000.

Cars, along with gas cards, are part of the perks enjoyed by state lawmakers. Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) says in many instances the vehicles with more than 100,000 miles were too expensive to maintain. After selling the older cars and buying new ones, the cost to taxpayers was only $50,000 on the Senate side.

"The state did not just go out and buy a bunch of new cars. It replaced some of the older cars and sold the cars. So there was a very small cost to the state in just essentially keeping the fleet," said Steinberg.

Analysis shows it's actually more expensive for taxpayers to reimburse lawmakers for their travel and that it's cheaper for the state to buy the vehicle and lease the car to lawmakers.

If lawmakers go over their car allowance, they pay the difference out of their pocket.

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