Evans stirs uproar over losing car perk
Published: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 8:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 8:23 p.m.
State Sen. Noreen Evans suggested Wednesday she may soon resort to hot air balloons, llamas and other unconventional modes of travel to visit residents of her sprawling North Coast district following a state commission's decision to take away her taxpayer-funded car.
Evans tweets reaction to car cut
“Hey Press Democrat! Going to Vallejo today to meet with Chamber. Was there yesterday too. Big meeting in Napa Thursday. 280 miles roundtrip. How should I get there?”
“Used allowance driving to and from Capitol, Sebastopol, Vallejo and Napa. Sorry Mendocino, state can't afford your rep to tour tsunami damage at Noyo Harbor.”
“Napa has hot air balloons. Maybe they can send one over to take me to Thursday's meeting!”
“Another incident at Napa State Hospital? Sorry workers, state can't afford to send your elected reps to meet with you and see state facility. Maybe Press Democrat can go instead.”
“Sorry Humboldt. State can't afford to send your elected reps to meet with students and faculty re impacts of budget cuts. Send the university down here.”
“What's that Lake County? Flood damage? Sorry, state can't afford to send your elected reps to see the damage. Send pictures.”
“There's a llama farm in Mendocino County. Send ‘em down! I need to go up there for 4th of July. Let's get packing!”
“Lake County has a buffalo ranch. Send ‘em down! Need to get on the road if you want your senator to see the new community college campus!”
In a series of eight online tweets tinged with sarcasm, the Santa Rosa Democrat told her Twitter followers the state could no longer afford to send her to meet constituents in Humboldt, Mendocino, Lake and Napa counties.
One message said she would have depleted her monthly travel stipend driving from towns in Sonoma County to Sacramento and couldn't make a trip to tsunami-battered Crescent City.
“I was trying to be funny and make a point,” Evans said of her tweets. “I wanted to in a humorous way poke fun at how silly it is.”
But her comments also ignited an online firestorm of criticism that she is out of touch with recession-battered constituents making financial sacrificies of their own.
The messages posted over about two hours Wednesday morning came in response to last week's Citizens Compensation Commission ruling that will strip senators and Assembly members of state-funded cars in December. Instead, those who drive their own vehicles will get a flat $300 a month to cover their costs, including lease, gasoline, insurance and repair payments.
Over the last two years, the commission has reduced lawmakers' annual salary from $116,028 to $95,291 and cut their tax-free stipend while the Legislature is in session from $173 a day to $142 a day. It plans to seek a legal opinion on whether the per diem should be taxed and whether lawmakers can be denied the stipend if they miss a Capitol session, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Evans has argued the cutbacks to the Legislature's budget for car travel
Residents of smaller urban areas won't have the same problem because their legislators don't travel nearly as far, she said.
If she drives her state-financed hybrid Toyota Highlander an estimated 2,000 miles a month on district business, she will end up being reimbursed about 15 cents per mile — far less than the 51 cents per mile paid to members of the compensation commission and other state workers.
She said it will cost her about $1,000 a month out of her own pocket. She denied her concern was over any loss of compensation.
“The way it's being portrayed is it's somehow punishing legislators,” Evans said. “I'm not the one being punished. It's the voters.”
Other North Coast lawmakers expressed support for the cuts.
Assemblyman Jared Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat who represents a smaller Marin-Sonoma district, said it's not inappropriate “given what we're asking others to do.”
“I will resist commenting on what other legislators say about it,” Huffman said. “I will just say I'm certainly not going to complain about it. If there's a single theme for the times were in, it's shared sacrifice. I fully expect to be part of that sacrifice.”
Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, whose district runs from Bodega Bay to the Oregon border, declined to be interviewed on the subject. A spokesman said he was busy on a trip to Crescent City.
But in a statement, Chesbro said the Legislature needs to “cut back on non-essential expenses.”
“Under these circumstances we need to do our part,” Chesbro said.
Santa Rosa Assemblyman Michael Allen did not return messages left at his Sacramento office. He told the Napa Valley Register the change didn't seem to fit the needs of larger districts and that it was “unfortunate the commission took a one-size-fits-all approach.”
The commission ordered lawmakers to turn in their taxpayer-funded cars and gas cards by Dec. 1. The new vehicle compensation system would save more than $2 million over five years, the commission estimated.
Evans' tweets drew widespread criticism Wednesday when they were reported on The Press Democrat's political website, Watch Sonoma County. Many accused her of whining about the cuts during a time of high unemployment and financial hardship.
Some people said she should use her phone more often to save money. Others said it was a hardship that comes with public service. Still others said Evans should buy a bus pass.
“Ms. Evans, it's time to be creative and adapt to the new economic situation. Try Skype, or video conferencing. Plan your trips better so that you can use fuel more economically,” Santa Rosa resident Kathy McMorrow commented.
“If Noreen doesn't like the cuts to her pay, she can go find a job elsewhere!” commented Dave Madigan, a former Santa Rosa businessman.
Evans' supporters went on Twitter over the weekend to back the lawmaker after she criticized the commission's decision online and in news stories.
“The Commission's action was punitive, not based on facts nor logic,” tweeted Steven Maviglio, a Democratic strategist in Sacramento.
Another accused The Press Democrat of focusing attention on Evans' stance to create a controversy that would anger her critics.
“Next 2 Unions & Immigrants UR the Best target,” tweeted Lisa Maldonado, executive director of the North Bay Labor Council.
In an interview Wednesday, Evans lashed out at the newspaper for what she described as failing to explain the measure and driving a wedge between her and voters. She said she posted multiple tweets Wednesday because of the 140-character limit imposed on Twitter messages.
Evans, who is serving her first term as the state senator for the North Coast, said she had a two-inch-thick stack of requests for her attendance at various events across her 3,000-square-mile district. She said she won't stop making visits but her representation will be “less effective and they will have less access.”
“I don't travel around the district for my own entertainment,” Evans said. “I travel to learn about constituents and effectively represent them at the Capitol.”
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