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Politics

On The Money: Legislator Cars

Expensive Shuttles
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It’s a perk that California politicians have been getting for decades – the use of a taxpayer supported car. But what happens when those state lawmakers no longer want those vehicles?

Taxpayers shelled out more than $39,000 for a 2011 Buick LaCrosse that was purchased brand new for a politician. But just days after delivery, Senator Kevin de Leon
of Los Angeles decided he didn’t want it anymore. So the Buick collected dust in a warehouse for months.

“It’s almost an arrogance of power,” said Derek Cressman of Common Cause.

Cressman is a government watchdog for Common Cause, a non-partisan group that closely monitors the Capitol. “This is just symptomatic of why Californians feel their government is broken,” Cressman told CBS 13.

Senator de Leon declined to talk to CBS 13 on camera. On The Money filed a Public Records Act request – and the Senate Rules Committee quickly complied – directing us to a garage in the basement of the Capitol – where the Buick LaCrosse is now an expensive shuttle vehicle for elected officials.

Taxpayers also shelled out nearly $40,000 to purchase a brand new Lincoln MKZ Hybrid for another politician. Senator Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo canceled the order before delivery – but the dealership wouldn’t take the vehicle back. So the Lincoln was utilized as a high-priced shuttle vehicle for several months.

“In most other states, legislators do not have things like the cars, things like the perks and of course the high salaries,” noted Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

I caught up with Senator Blakeslee at the Capitol and asked him about the car. Blakeslee did not respond to my question before the elevator doors closed. Blakeslee eventually purchased the Lincoln Hybrid with his own money, so taxpayers are now off the hook. But for critics, there are still unanswered questions.

“Why do we even provide these vehicles in the first place?” asked Jon Coupal.

Actually that’s about the change. Starting in December, state lawmakers will no longer get a taxpayer supported vehicle or free gas. Instead, they’ll be driving their own vehicles, with a transportation allowance of $300 a month.

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