As the state of California experiences a financial meltdown that will squeeze public education, health services, and really impact the poorest (read largely Latino) residents, it is frustrating to find articles like this one in today’s LA Times detailing the car expenses of some of California’s public servants. Even more crushing is the revelation that the top three most expensive vehicles purchased for state legislators are those for Senator Ron Calderon, Senator Gil Cedillo, and Senator Dean Florez. These public servants earn over $100,000 per year, have a benefit package that many of us would fork over our first born for, and enjoy other perks like per diem expense accounts, lunches with lobbyists, and lots of reimbursed travel.
I think that in a climate where so many of us are penny pinching, asking students to make sacrifices or go without summer school, Cal Grants, and face fee increases at public colleges and universities, it certainly leaves a bad taste in the mouths of Californians to have to foot the bill for luxury cars for the state’s already well compensated elected leaders. I do want to note that Assemblyman Juan Arambula and Senator Gloria Romero are two noted Latinos who have declined a district car. Gracias Assemblyman Arambula and Senator Romero for not taking advantage of your benefits at our expense. You give me a bit of faith that perhaps the others will see the light.
Latinos were not the only legislators with fancy wheels, as others have taken advantage too. However, given the Southern California car club culture in our communities, these revelations play to a certain stereotype that we are materialistic and not very serious about our jobs and how we conduct ourselves.
On page two of the LA Times piece, I was particularly disturbed by this:
“Californians have paid for several accidents in the last three years that happened when lawmakers’ relatives were behind the wheel.
Maria Robles, the wife of then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez, was driving his official vehicle in October 2006 when it struck the rear of another vehicle, costing the state $19,000.
Then-Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia’s son Javier “made a right turn in front of oncoming traffic” in a December 2006 accident that cost the state $22,000, state records say.”
Some argue that Californians are already over-taxed, and a few weeks ago, we witnessed the governor’s ballot measures fail at the polls, which would have helped close the gap in the state budget. UCLA economists expect that unemployment will rise to 12.1% by the end of the year and not go back to single digits until late 2011, yet some of our leaders are content to continue living the high life taking full advantage of every tax payer funded perk.
While car expenses can be viewed as a drop in the proverbial bucket, I believe that we should not turn a blind eye to these kinds of abuses. Every penny adds up. The $3.2 million that state legislators’ cars cost tax payers for three years could have been used to purchase textbooks, hire teachers, buy supplies in public health clinics. Why should we be paying for Maria Robles’s fender benders (wife of Fabian Nuñez) or for the son of former Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia’s accidents? How can anyone reasonably justify these costs?
Photo: Cadillac STS, the most costly vehicle driven by Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello)