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State senators get new wheels [Updated]

January 18, 2011 |  5:04 pm

It was the state Senate’s turn Tuesday to roll out its fleet of new cars purchased for lawmakers.

A week after The Times reported that the Assembly had spent $259,000 in taxpayer funds on new SUVs and other vehicles for themselves in the last year, the Senate released documents showing that its members have received four new cars costing a total of $155,900 in the last 12 months.

Sen. Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) received a 2010 Chrysler 300S costing $39,458, while newly elected Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) is driving around in a 2011 Buick LaCrosse that cost $39,109.

[Updated, 6:15 p.m.: Dan Reeves, De Leon’s chief of staff, said later Tuesday that the senator  instructed him to contact the Senate Rules Committee and "see if we can acquire a fleet car and return the Buick since he just got it."]

The state spent more than $38,000 each to buy 2011 Buick LaCrosses for Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) and Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego).

They are among 29 senators who have state-issued automobiles to drive around their districts, but most of the vehicles were purchased before last year. Legislators pay a small amount each month -- less than $100 in many cases -- to cover part of the cost of the cars, but the vast majority of the expense comes from the Senate and Assembly budgets.

The legislative cars are bought separately from the purchases in the main state vehicle fleet, which numbers 13,600 vehicles. Gov. Jerry Brown has called for the main fleet to be reduced.

At a time when the state is facing a $25-billion budget shortfall and is about to ask voters to approve more taxes, the purchase of the new cars for lawmakers has sparked criticism from Marcia Fritz, head of the the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility. "It looks like they are not looking hard enough for places to cut the budget," Fritz said, suggesting lawmakers should drive their personal cars and be reimbursed for mileage.

-- Patrick McGreevy