This is about state legislators (not for the national government) in the State of California - supposedly one of the most progressive places on Earth.... they think hybrids are "green"... and 49 out of 119 drive SUVs..
State legislators ride green wave in hybrid vehicles
- Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross
Sunday, February 5, 2006
It could be that Sacramento lawmakers are finally paying attention to gas prices, or maybe they're just slaves to fashion -- but whatever the case, hybrid cars are all the red-hot rage for legislators who get to drive state-subsidized wheels.
Thirty-five -- or well over a quarter -- of the state's 119 senators and Assembly members are cruising the politically correct highway, state records show. Virtually all the cars were purchased within the past two years.
Not that the pols are losing their zest for sport utility vehicles, mind you.
In fact, 49 legislators are listed as driving SUVs -- though 18 of them have switched from pure gas guzzlers to gas-electric hybrids like the Ford Escape or bigger Toyota Highlander.
"It's certainly more economical and environmentally friendly,'' says Democrat Kevin Murray of Los Angeles, who chairs the Senate's powerful Appropriations Committee.
He should know. Murray gave up his very big Lincoln Navigator for a smaller but equally pricey ($57,334) 2006 Hybrid Lexus RX400H which, according to Automobile Magazine, "accelerates with V-8 gusto and cradles its occupants in leather-lined luxury.'' It also gets a compact-like 30 mpg, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Like other lawmakers, Murray's ride is financed partly by a monthly auto allowance of $350 to $500 (the exact amount depends on lease terms and on whether the legislator is in the Assembly or Senate). Any costs above that come out of legislators' pockets.
In Murray's case, he pays about $325 a month toward the SUV.
Still, it's taxpayers who pick up the tab for gas and maintenance. So when gas prices shot through the roof last year, the Assembly leadership began pushing its members to switch to hybrids -- and capped the cost of their vehicles at $44,000.
Among those who heeded the call was Assemblyman Guy Houston, R-San Ramon, who jettisoned his Chevy Tahoe (mileage in the teens) for a $43,695 Toyota Highlander that gets around 30 mpg. "Limited'' edition, of course.
How does he like it?
"I kind of miss my Tahoe -- the roominess,'' Houston said the other day while rolling toward the Bay Area from Sacramento. "But it's working out just fine -- I'm getting about double the mileage as before, and I'm one of the higher users.''
So is state Sen. Mike Machado, D-Linden (San Joaquin County), who now drives a 2005 Ford Escape hybrid.
His new ride gets about 31 mpg, according to the EPA. In 2004, before he made the switch, Machado rang up $4,891 in gas bills -- tops in the Senate.
Another reformed guzzler is Assemblyman Joe Nation. The San Rafael Democrat drives a 2005 Honda Accord hybrid that gets 32 mpg, helping cut his gas bill from the Assembly-topping $3,600 he totaled in 2004.
Other hybrid owners include Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who also tools around in a 2005 Accord hybrid, and Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, D-Los Angeles, who drives a 2004 version of the iconic Toyota Prius -- a veritable gas sipper at 55 mpg.
As for legislative leaders, they're a bit behind the green curve.
Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, is still sporting a gas-motored 2005 Dodge Charger, while Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, is driving a 2003 Eddie Bauer edition Ford Explorer. It gets in the neighborhood of 17 mpg.
Not everyone is tooling around in modern comfort, however. The ever-frugal Republican Sen. Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks (Ventura County), who is running for lieutenant governor, is driving the same 1998 Mercury Gran Marquis he purchased for $16,784 while still serving in the Assembly. Likewise, Democratic Sen. Debra Bowen of Marina del Rey (Los Angeles County) still has her 1997 Mazda, purchased for $17,881 during her Assembly years.
And we found four legislators who have skipped the auto perk altogether -- Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Garden Grove (Orange County); Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica; Assemblyman Juan Arambula, D-Fresno; and Assemblyman Mark Wyland, R-Del Mar (San Diego County).
Then again, every senator and Assembly member who lives too far from Sacramento to commute is also assigned a pool car for use up in the capital. So in Kuehl's case, she drives the classic Porsche she bought for herself for when she's home in L.A. -- and uses one of the Senate's many new Honda Civic hybrids while working up north.
Then there's state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco. Four years ago, she stepped into a public relations nightmare right after being elected to a $131,000-a-year seat on the state Franchise Tax Board, when she ordered a $41,000, buffed-out Cadillac CTS (complete with a state-of-the-art Bose sound system) as her official state car.
Migden canceled that order after word got around, saying she was wrongly being labeled a big spender.
That was then. Now that Migden is back in the Legislature, she's back to her old self and riding around in a decidedly non-hybrid 2005 Cadillac STS sedan -- priced at $53,481, according to state records.
As for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger? He's still ushered around in a state fleet of armor-plated, gas-burning Chevy Suburbans -- though he did make a nod to the green crowd when he briefly campaigned last year in his own hydrogen-fueled Hummer.
The other five or so Hummers he owns all run on gas -- but then, he can afford it.
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