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.
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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."