State Rep. Marie Waldron (R-75th District), who portrays herself as a fiscally responsible conservative, took the highest amount of mileage reimbursements in the California Legislature during the 2015-16 session, state records show.
Nine of the Legislature’s 120 members — 80 in the House, 40 in the Senate, in all — who took over $20,000 in payouts represented almost half of the mileage reimbursements, according to a Sacramento Bee investigation published Monday.
Waldron was on top of the roost with $30,000, tied for that distinction with Matt Dababneh, a Los Angeles Democrat in the Assembly.
According to the Bee: “Waldron’s office said she drives to Sacramento from her San Diego-area district because it’s hard for her to get to an airport. Dababneh said he made a campaign promise not to use pool cars available to legislators at the Capitol, so he uses his personal vehicle for all official business, including events around his district, meetings in the Bay Area and sometimes driving to Sacramento instead of flying.”
Waldron and her family recently moved to Valley Center from Escondido. The distance from Valley Center to San Diego International Airport is 40 miles, most of it freeway.
Waldron officially earns $104,118 annually along with $183/day for each day in session.
The 75th District extends from Escondido through Fallbrook to Temecula, essentially straddling Interstate 15.
California’s Legislature spent about $750,00 for mileage in the 2016-16 session, paying members 53 cents per mile when they drove their personal vehicles in legislative business, according to Alexei Koseff of the Bee.
This actually represented a saving, of sorts, for the state. The mileage reimbursement program in 2011 replaced a perk that allowed members to lease vehicles on the taxpayer dime. Lawmakers in 2009-2010 spent $1.4 million on car leases, maintenance and gasoline.
The vehicular spending actually represents just a drop in the legislative bucket. The Legislature’s overall budget, which includes salaries and benefits for thousands of employees, travel, office supplies and other services was $246.8 million in 2016, according to annual reports, up nearly 14 percent from 2010.
For decades, according to the Bee, taxpayers picked up the tab on cars purchased by the Legislature and then leased to lawmakers for driving to the Capitol or around their districts. The 40 senators and 80 Assembly members were allowed to choose their vehicles – some settled for used sedans, while others splurged on new Toyota Highlanders and Chevrolet Tahoes worth about $48,500 apiece – and paid a portion of the monthly lease. The state covered gas, insurance and maintenance costs as well as the remainder of the lease.
The California Citizens Compensation Commission, which sets politician pay, targeted that benefit in April 2011, following other cuts it made to salaries during the economic recession. Though eliminating the car-lease program would do little to close the state’s multibillion-dollar budget gap, members of the panel argued it was overly generous. No other state provided all lawmakers with a vehicle of their choice.
Waldron and the gas tax
Interestingly, Waldron this May had a lot to say about the $5.2 billion-a-year road-funding pact that would raise gas taxes, registration fees and add other charges, as well as include a constitutional amendment to restrict lawmakers’ ability to shift the money to other uses.
The plan was announced at the Capitol on Wednesday March 29, 2017. California Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders of the Legislature finalized the deal this week.
“The tooth fairy won’t fix California roads, so we must pay,” Brown said in announcing the plan.
For Waldron, who nonetheless availed herself of the highest mileage reimbursement among 120 state legislators, maybe the tooth fairy represents a legitimate alternative.
In her monthly op-ed piece for May published by some local “newspapers” as a bit of free political advertising, Waldron disputed Brown’s assertion that additional gas taxes of 12 cents per gallon would cost under $10 per month for most Californians.
“I call baloney,” Waldron said.
Cut us off a slice then, madame fiscal watchdog, since you expect us to believe you drive 494 miles to Sacramento instead of making that horribly long 40-mile drive from Valley Center to Lindbergh Field, and for which you charged taxpayers $30,000 in the 2015-16 Legislative session.