Katcho Achadjian among first-term lawmakers rejecting legislative car perk

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Move over, Gov. Jerry Brown, because more than half of California’s freshmen lawmakers are joining you in turning down a government perk.

Elected by angry taxpayers in a year of a massive state deficit, 18 of 31 first-year legislators have decided not to order a new car bankrolled largely by public funds.

The penny pinching, mostly symbolic in closing a $26.4 billion budget gap, echoes the tone set by Brown in turning in his state-issued cell phone and vowing to reduce the state’s vehicle fleet for workers.

The cumulative total of 29 legislators driving personal cars for work — nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans — is unprecedented in recent memory. By comparison, nine California lawmakers rejected state cars in 2006, and 17 turned thumbs down in 2009, records show.

Freshmen legislators are rejecting state cars at rates far exceeding veteran colleagues: 58 percent of first-year lawmakers are driving their family cars at work, for example, compared with just 13 percent of incumbents.

"I’m pleasantly surprised, (freshmen) may be ushering in a new atmosphere," said Jessica Levinson of the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. She suspects the move is more image than substance, however.

"To be cynical, there may be a calculus that they’re saving money and buying great PR at the same time," Levinson said.

Capitol belt-tightening potentially could brighten prospects for voter approval of extending temporary tax hikes counted on by Brown to raise about $11 billion over 18 months. Republicans oppose that extension but support fiscal sacrifice.

"If we’re going to cut expenses, we’ve got to start with our own expenses," said Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, a San Luis Obispo Republican who said he drives his personal car about 300 miles from his home to the Capitol each week.

"It’s a good message to send to taxpayers — that we’re willing to save," said Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno. "But it’s a burden and an impact for me and my family because I’m driving the family car up and down from Fresno every three days."

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