State puts brakes on car perk for lawmakers


California is the only state in the country that provides free cars to lawmakers, largely paid for by taxpayers, but the free ride is over.

A taxpayer-provided car is one of the valued perks lawmakers have. It comes with an unlimited gas card and free maintenance, but not for long.

"The state is broke," said Charles Murray, from the California Citizens Compensation Commission.

The California Citizen Compensation Commission stripped them of that perk and instead will give each legislator a $300 a month transportation allowance starting Dec 1. The move saves the cash-strapped state more than $2 million over 5 years.

"I think everybody has to share in the pain and these are cuts that have to take place," said Murray.

Car benefits have long angered taxpayers, especially during these tough budget times when the average tab per lawmaker is $7,500 a year. On top of that, the public pays for accidents too. Former St. Sen. Carole Migden's 2007 multi-vehicle crash, for instance, cost nearly $400,000 to settle.

"It's like the taxpayers are always there to clean up the mess from state government and this is just one more example," said Jon Coupal from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

But for those lawmakers whose districts encompass several counties, a $300 a month allowance doesn't cut it. St. Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, says it takes about eight hours one way to visit her farthest constituents near the Oregon state line.

"If I didn't have a car provided by the state, obviously, I'd have to visit my constituents less. There is no other way to get around," said Evans.

About two-thirds of lawmakers, 80 of 120, take advantage of a state vehicle. Those who don't have one say the perk seems excessive, given the times.

"I found it very difficult to be up here and hearing about all the sacrifices other people are making," said St. Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar.

Some lawmakers said these cutbacks are starting to feel punitive. The commission cut their salaries 18 percent to $95,000 a year and their per diem to $142 a day.

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