Taxpayers paying for lawmakers' costly rides

June 16, 2009 10:50:02 PM PDT
Another way the state could save some money would be to cut back how much taxpayers reimburse legislators for the cars. Particularly since many are driving some pretty expensive cars, and we're all picking up at least some of the bill. State Senator Ron Calderon is this year's poster boy for the car allowance controversy. He drives the most expensive car in the Legislature, a 2006 Cadillac STS Luxury Sedan, valued at nearly $55,000, which he uses in his large Southern California district.

Taxpayers pay for the first $350 of the monthly lease; lawmakers pay anything over. In Senator Calderon's case, it's $311 a month out of his pocket.

"Is it right to be driving around a $50,000 Cadillac in these tight budget times?" asked ABC7's Nannette Miranda.

"It suits me because I drive a lot in the district. I drive long distances. I'm a big guy. It's a comfortable car," said Sen. Calderon.

"It actually saved money that way. But I think you're right. It is worth taking a look at again to see what's the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars," said Senate Minority Leader St. Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth (R) Murrieta.

Even with 17 lawmakers declining a state car, it still costs taxpayers more than $3 million over three years, including gas and crash repairs.

A coalition of churches is protesting the additional deep cuts to social programs to the poor. The car allowance, which is on top the lawmakers' six figure salaries and $35,000 in tax free per diem, stunned the demonstrators.

"I couldn't afford a car that cost $40,000, $50,000. They should be driving economical cars, not the luxury crap they're driving. It's immoral," said Jim Scurlock from the California Council of Churches.

Senator Calderon says don't judge an elected official just by the car he drives.

"You have to look at how am I serving the state of California? What have I done? Look at my legislative record," said Sen. Calderon.

The decision to take away car allowances falls on the Rules Committee which is made of lawmakers. So lawmakers will have to vote on whether to take the cars away from themselves.

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