Department Heads Get Grilled On State Spending

February 10, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
California lawmakers demanded answers on Wednesday from department heads who spent millions of dollars, while the state was furloughing workers and cutting programs. State agencies spent $45 million on new cars, $30 million on new furniture and $2 million on conferences.

Last year was an awful budget year and state spending was cut by the billions. Lawmakers are rightly so upset over the spending that went on anyway.

All those new cars, new furniture, and off-site travel to conferences put department heads on the hot seat Wednesday with lawmakers grilling agencies on how they could spend $75 million on that last year in the midst of a budget crisis.

The state Air Resources Board bought nearly $500,000 of furniture, some for 40 new employees. The cost of each worker's cubicle is shocking.

"It's around, I think, $5,000 for a workspace. Excuse me, around $7000," says Rob Oglesby from the Air Resources Board.

When asked what would constitute a workspace, the computers or the building, Oglesby replied, "It's basically building a cubicle."

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, R-San Diego, just bought furniture for his home office.

"I went to IKEA and I picked out a nice one, got it home, and assembled it and it was significantly less," said Fletcher.

DMV opened a new office that needed new cubicles for 144 new hires last year, but old floors needed updating first.

"It was particle board and they had no capability to address repetitive stress injuries or lifting keyboards and stuff," said Dennis Clear, from the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The spending spree irritated lawmakers considering they approved deep budget cuts to schools and social programs and furloughed state workers without pay, while the agencies kept writing checks.

"If you ask people do they want a new DMV office or do they want funding for their schools, they're going to choose a different priority than what you chose sitting in DMV," said Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, D-Lodi.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger encourages lawmakers to root out more waste.

"The more we can all look into government and check out if there's any wasteful spending, the better it is for the people of California and the better it is for the taxpayers," said Schwarzenegger.

Caltrans which spent the most last year on new cars testified $10 million went towards replacing vehicles that surpassed 200,000 miles or polluted too much.