by Karl Kurtz
For as long as I can remember, the California Legislature was the only legislature in the nation that provided cars to all of its members. In recent years the policy has been to cover leasing costs of up to $285 per month plus the cost of insurance, gas and maintenance.
But last year, the California Citizens Compensation Commission, which now determines salaries for elected officials in the state, eliminated the car perquisite. Instead, they substituted a provision that legislators could be paid $300 per month to cover the cost of driving to and from Sacramento and around their districts. The commission calculated that this would halve the costs to the public of compensating members of the Legislature.
Trouble is, the state comptroller, relying on an opinion from the state attorney general, has told the Legislature that the compensation commission had no authority to create a new type of compensation. But legislators are entitled to claim $.55 per mile for travel on government business, just as any other state employee is. According to the Sacramento Bee, the result could be this irony:
Driving as few as 540 miles a month for meetings, constituent events and trips to and from the Capitol could result in a legislator pocketing more than the $300 proposed allowance in mileage reimbursement.
"My educated guess, since that's what it would be at this point, is that it would probably cost the Assembly more than the current program we have. But we will do what we can to keep that down," Assembly administrator Jon Waldie said.
The Assembly and Senate are now in the process of disposing of the members' cars. It's no surprise to anyone who has ever driven a new car off of a lot and seen its value drop precipitously that the Legislature is selling them at a loss. Here's the Sacramento Bee's graphic on the sell-off.