The state purchased $540,000 worth of new Ford Fusion Hybrids and other cars for legislators over the last 18 months, prompting criticism from taxpayer activists who call the vehicles unnecessary political perks given at a time when many Californians continue to struggle financially.
The Ford Fusions are reserved for members of the state Senate and replace fleet vehicles that have as little as 12,400 miles on their odometers. Some were bought shortly before nearly 40 Senate staff members were laid off because of a budget shortfall in the upper legislative chamber.
"The excesses and absurdities never seem to end with government," said Lew Uhler, president of the California-based National Tax Limitation Committee. "Infuriation never ends with the way that they operate."
The 20 new cars, most purchased by the state Department of General Services and leased to the Senate, are part of a normal process of swapping out older cars in the state Senate motor pool with more eco-friendly vehicles, state officials said. The newest eight cars, 2015 Fusion Hybrids, were purchased Sept. 9 for $23,935 each and placed in the Senate motor pool, where they are assigned to senators while they are in Sacramento.
The Assembly owns a separate pool of 49 cars for use by lawmakers. All but one are 2007 Toyota Camrys purchased in 2006, according to spokesman John Casey. The cars are available to members whose districts are a significant distance from Sacramento. The cars cannot be used for travel to their districts.
The automobile perks enjoyed by lawmakers have previously been the subject of controversy. Legislators once had the use of two state cars, one for their district and one for when they were in Sacramento.
In 2011, the state Citizens Compensation Commission ended the Legislature's practice of buying cars for lawmakers to use in their districts, deciding it would be cheaper to have them drive their own private vehicles and receive a travel allowance. The state-owned cars provided to lawmakers while they are in Sacramento remained.
The Senate's top administrator, Secretary Danny Alvarez, downplayed its role in the decision to buy 2015 Hybrids.