AP Enterprise: Calif. lawmakers keep vehicle perk http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20101203/ap_on_re_us/us_california_legislative_vehicles SACRAMENTO, Calif. â California lawmakers enjoy a perk that seems like a luxurious amenity in a state that has been slashing billions of dollars from its budget: taxpayer-provided cars. The state purchases cars for lawmakers to drive around their districts and the capital under a decades-old program, spending more than $5 million for the latest suite of vehicles that includes a $55,000 Cadillac sedan and a $52,000 Lexus hybrid. Lawmakers are enjoying the benefit at a time when the state is in a financial mess and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called legislators into a special session next week to address a $6 billion deficit. Lawmakers already have cut programs such as adult dental care and health care programs for children from low-income families, and more cuts are likely on the way. California is the only state in the nation to provide vehicles to its rank-and-file lawmakers for unlimited use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Associated Press sought information about lawmakers' vehicles and the cost to taxpayers as part of an ongoing examination of California legislative records and spending. The record-keeping officers of the Assembly and Senate supplied the information in response to a formal request. The Senate will review the program as it seeks to reduce its operating costs for the third consecutive year, Nathan Barankin, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said Friday in response to the AP's story. "The real question is, is there a cheaper, more efficient way of providing transportation for lawmakers to do their job?" he said. The compensation and benefits given to California lawmakers has come under intense criticism in the last year. Legislative officials fought an 18 percent cut in lawmakers' pay and benefits in 2009 while other state employees were enduring three-day-a-month furloughs. The reductions eventually were approved, along with lowering monthly vehicle allowances for lawmakers. "It just says, 'What's ours is ours; the rules don't apply to us,'" said Charles Murray, chairman of the California Citizens Compensation Commission, an independent body that sets the compensation for lawmakers and constitutional officers. "I think in tough economic times, all these little sweetheart deals, all these perks, start to come to the surface and people start to ask questions."