Bill would ax state car perk for lawmakers

EDITOR’S NOTE: There have been 92 bills signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf this legislative session, but that’s just a fraction of the hundreds of bills introduced by lawmakers. In this continuing series, we take a look at some of the noteworthy pieces of legislation that haven’t gotten much attention statewide.

HARRISBURG — A state lawmaker wants the state to stop providing taxpayer funded cars to members of the General Assembly.

It’s a perk that most lawmakers have already stopped accepting, opting instead to use their personal vehicles to travel to the Capitol and for government business. The state allows lawmakers who use their personal vehicles to seek mileage reimbursement at the 54 cents a mile rate set by the federal government.

But the state also allows lawmakers the option of using a state car and about 1-in-6 members of the General Assembly still use a state vehicle, according to records provided by the state Department of General Services.

Lawmakers with a state car are provided a gas card and they are supposed to track how much of their travel is business-related and pay for the cost of their personal use.

State Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford County, has authored House Bill 482 which would abolish the practice of providing taxpayer funded vehicles to lawmakers.

The legislation was the subject of an informational meeting before the House state government committee on Tuesday, but no vote was taken. Roae said he wants to talk to members of the committee to gauge their level of support before seeking to get the measure voted out of committee.

Fifteen of the 50 members of the state Senate and 29 of the 203 members of the state House have state-issued vehicles. No Republican in the state House has a state-issued vehicle.

The cars include:

•13 Jeep Cherokees

•8 Ford Explorers

•5 Chevrolet Traverses

•4 Ford Tauruses

•3 Chevrolet Equinoxes and three Ford Focuses

•2 Ford Expeditions and Ford Escapes

•1 each of a Chevrolet Malibu, a Ford Edge, a Nissan Altima, and a Chrysler Town and Country.

•That includes: 18 2017 model year vehicles; 3 from 2016; 9 from 2015; and 3 from 2013.

A decade ago, 130 lawmakers used state-issued cars according to a 2009 state audit of the government’ vehicle fleet management. In all, the state’s fleet of vehicles topped 16,600 vehicles in 2008. The state’s total fleet is down to 14,762, said Troy Thompson, a Department of General Services spokesman

With only a minority of lawmakers still using a state-issued car, the savings from abolishing the practice of providing taxpayer-funded cars to lawmakers would likely be relatively modest, Roae said.

Documents provided by the Department of General Services show the lease payments for the state-provided cars for lawmakers costs almost $325,000 a year.

Roae said there are other considerations. Roae said it’s far from certain that lawmakers who have state-issued cars are meticulous about documenting their use and fully paying for their personal use.

“There is currently not a way to monitor these miles to ensure that personal mileage and campaign mileage is not mistakenly logged as business mileage,” he said.

Capitol watchdog activists said that Roae’s bill would be welcome, though they characterized it as a modest reform compared to other potential moves.

“It’s not much of a sacrifice,” said Eric Epstein, coordinator for Rock The Capital.

Epstein said he’d be more impressed if lawmakers took steps to get other perks, like health care coverage, more in line with the benefits provided to private sector workers.

“The amount they pay is de minimis,” he said. “They are getting Cadillac coverage for the cost of a Yugo.”

Lawmakers pay 1 percent of their salary as their contribution toward their health insurance, according to information provided by House Majority Leader Dave Reed’s office.

Activist Gene Stilp agreed.

“For the amount they accomplish, it should be a part-time job,” Stilp said.

Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature in the country. Pennsylvania lawmakers are paid a base salary of $87,180 annually. Only California pays its state lawmakers more, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Most of these people come to Harrisburg and realize it’s the cushiest job they’ve ever had so they never want to leave,” Stilp said.

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CNHI Harrisburg Bureau

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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