By Don Thompson
Associated Press
Posted: 12/06/2012 06:23:55 AM PST
Updated: 12/06/2012 06:24:59 AM PST

SACRAMENTO — Numerous California lawmakers repaired or upgraded their state-provided vehicles at taxpayers’ expense in the final weeks before the one-of-its-kind perk was ending, then later bought those vehicles for personal use.

The improvements ranged from cosmetic changes such as fixing dents and replacing wheel covers, to getting tires, multipoint inspections and new parts such as fuel pumps that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Some had the vehicles they would soon buy inspected at no cost to them, according to state maintenance records obtained by The Associated Press through public records requests.

Officials at the state Senate and Assembly said they did not ask lawmakers to have their vehicles repaired or upgraded before the state put them up for sale to independent dealers a year ago.

“Essentially what they did was get all their repairs done on the state’s dime before they bought it,” said Philip Ung, a spokesman for the government watchdog group Common Cause.

The sale was the last step in ending a program dating to the 1950s that had been criticized as an unreasonable benefit for legislators who in recent years have slashed the state’s social services safety net to stem billion-dollar budget deficits.

The AP has previously reported on various aspects of the perk, including that the Legislature had spent $5 million for one year’s fleet and refused to publicly release the mileage or where the lawmakers drove the vehicles.

California was the only state that provided vehicles to its rank-and-file lawmakers for unlimited use, until the state Citizens Compensation Commission voted in April 2011 to do away with the benefit. Legislators were told to turn in their vehicles by Dec. 1, 2011.

Of 64 lawmakers who had state-financed repairs after the commission’s decision, 37 purchased their vehicles. That includes 16 of 18 senators and 21 of 46 Assembly members.

Many sought routine maintenance, such as oil changes, that accounted for a portion of the more than $78,000 the state spent to repair, clean and upgrade the state-provided vehicles in the final nine months of the program.

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