PD Editorial: Putting the brakes on a custom perk
Published: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 at 1:04 p.m.
No one likes to lose pay or benefits. On that score, state legislators are no different than anyone else.
We get that. But we're left to wonder if legislators have lost touch with reality when they cry foul about sharing the pain with state employees and their constituents as they cope with furloughs, pay cuts and unemployment.
First came Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, a Los Angeles Democrat, who tried to overturn a state commission's decision to reduce the pay and benefits of elected officials in recognition of California's budget deficit. He failed.
Now, it's state Sen. Noreen Evans tweeting in opposition to the same commission's voted to eliminate one of the perks of legislative office, a leased car. Beginning in December, legislators will receive a $300 monthly allowance to defray the expenses of using their personal vehicles rather than a leased car with gas and maintenance also covered by the taxpayers.
The Santa Rosa Democrat argued that $300 isn't enough to cover driving expenses, especially in a large district such as hers, which stretches about 350 miles from Humboldt County to Solano County. “My average is 2,000 miles p/mo on state business. $300 p/mo works out to 15 cents per mile,” she said in a post on Twitter shortly after the Citizen's Compensation Commission acted last Thursday.
On that point, Evans is probably right.
The Internal Revenue Service allows a deduction of 51 cents per mile for operating a personal vehicle for business purposes, and rising fuel prices could push that figure higher. If the commission sticks with a monthly allowance, it should consider the difference between geographically compact Senate and Assembly districts in Los Angeles and other cities and sprawling, rural districts that encompass several counties.
Unfortuntately, Evans didn't stop there.
She objected to a news report that described the lease cars as a “luxury,” she described the projected $2 million in savings over five years as “a gnat compared to a war drone,” and she argued that people of ordinary means won't be able to run for office without a more generous auto allowance.
A car, said Evans, is a tool for her job, like a phone or a desk. Fair enough, but a new car every couple years isn't a necessity. California is the only state that provides legislators with a car. Other states rely on mileage reimbursements, auto allowances or pool cars. So can California.
The commission's decision to get rid of the lease cars is consistent with Gov. Jerry Brown's order in January to halt new car purchases and sell vehicles that aren't “essential” for state business, with a goal of reducing the fleet of 11,000 cars and light trucks by half.
Evans failed to mention that state law allows elected officials to use campaign money and to establish separate officeholder accounts, funded by campaign-style donations, to offset expenses, such as fuel — options that ordinary people don't share.
The state's budget crisis is real, and its consequences are increasingly clear. Asking legislators to share the burden is about fairness, not punishment.
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