While more lawmakers are going hybrid-green, the Capitol's most powerful Democrat was rolling candy-apple red in a $38,600 Dodge Charger with 22-inch rims, yo.
Turns out Perata, D-Oakland, was far from alone among state lawmakers -- and not even in the top 10 -- in his taste for gas-slurping automotive luxury at mostly taxpayer expense.
More than half the senators who use state-leased cars opt for traditional gas vehicles that get 20 combined city/highway miles or less per gallon, according to a Times analysis of Senate data, using newly revised federal fuel economy ratings.
The Assembly, which offers a lease break for members who choose hybrids, fares greener. Nearly two-thirds of the 72 members with state-bought cars now drive hybrids.
All told, 13 senators and 14 Assembly members drive state vehicles that cost $40,000 or more.
Most of those are Toyota Highlander SUV hybrids like the one Guy Houston, R-Livermore, now drives after the Assembly asked him to get rid of the Chevy Tahoe that got 15 miles per gallon, which placed Houston among the Assembly's foremost gas guzzlers. The Toyota gets 26 mpg.
"I use a lot more gas than most anybody because I'm close enough to drive home every once in a while," Houston said. "The
When it comes to partisan driving, Republican lawmakers lag Democrats in both fuel efficiency and fiscal restraint.
GOP senators drive state vehicles that average 19 mpg compared with the Democrats' 30 mpg, the survey found. Republicans also chose cars that cost nearly $3,000 more on average. Assembly Republicans, at 24 mpg, get 6 mpg less than Democrats and picked cars that cost nearly $4,000 more -- although the state caps its costs.
Sen. Jim Battin, R-Palm Desert, drives the biggest fuel-hound: a charcoal-beige 2005 Lincoln Aviator that averages 13 mpg, according to Environmental Protection Agency ratings. Battin did not return calls for comment.
The chairman of the Senate's Environmental Quality Committee, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, drives a 2005 Chrysler 300 that gets a combined 20 mpg. Simitian said the sticker shows 27 mpg on the highway and 19 in the city.
The Times used the EPA's new mileage ratings, which account for faster acceleration and speeds, air conditioner use and other factors, resulting in lower numbers for most cars.
"You'll find I'm always in the middle to low end of the price spectrum. In terms of fuel economy, I think I'm right in the middle," said Simitian. "I am 6-foot-1 and 200-plus pounds," he added, "so the smaller Prius is really probably not going to work for me."
The Prius wouldn't, but the Nissan Altima hybrid has more legroom, headroom and hip room than his Chrysler, and the Toyota Camry hybrid has more legroom, headroom and shoulder room. Both get 34 mpg and cost a bit less than the Chrysler 300.
Bob Mulholland, the state Democratic Party spokesman, took a partisan view of the party split.
"It's no surprise. The Republicans in the Capitol talk a good game about taxpayers' money and the need to cut schools. Then you see them driving around town at midnight in fancy cars," he said.
But some GOP lawmakers credit the difference to geography, saying Republicans more often represent sprawling or rugged rural districts that demand longer drives and call for more comfort and size.
"If I'm driving all over the place, I'm going to buy the biggest car I can get," said Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin, as he drove out of Anaheim in "the gas guzzler" -- a 2005 Ford Explorer that gets 16 mpg. "Anybody can pick whatever car they want. I pay for part of this."
Dan Kalb, California policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he favors minimum fuel efficiency standards for all state vehicles, but more important was how lawmakers vote on vehicle-related bills.
One assemblyman said lawmakers should pay more if they choose less "environmentally conscious" vehicles.
"I drive a hybrid. I'd like my colleagues to drive cars that are good for the environment," said Ira Ruskin, D-Los Altos, who authored a bill that would reward or penalize car buyers as much as $2,500 depending on levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
One local lawmaker said the cost to taxpayers outweighed other factors in his choice. Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, drives a black 2000 Chevy Camaro Z28 that the state bought used for $15,900, the second-cheapest car in the Legislature. He disputed the 19 mpg EPA rating, saying he drives nearly all highway miles. Torlakson figures the difference at 50 gallons a year.
"I could have got a brand-spanking-new car with no dents or grease spots on the carpet when I bought it," Torlakson said. "One of my considerations was the price."
It wasn't cost or mileage that weighed most heavily when Perata chose a replacement car: a silver 2007 Ford Crown Victoria with 17,500 miles on it. It cost $18,646. It gets 18 mpg.
"A gun was stuck in his face," spokeswoman Alicia Trost said. "He wanted to drive a car that looked like a cop drove. That's all he was thinking of."
Staff writers Lisa White and Betsy Mason contributed to this story. Reach John Simerman at 925-943-8072 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Assembly and Senate lawmakers must choose American cars unless they pick a hybrid. The Legislature buys them. Lawmakers use state credit cards for gas.
Assembly: The state pays as much as $400 of the monthly cost, depending on the length of the lease. Lawmakers pay 10 percent of the cost, plus anything above the cap. Vehicle cost is limited to $44,000 for a hybrid and $37,500 for gas-only vehicles. Those who choose hybrids get a $6,000 lease incentive.
Senate: The state pays as much as $500 of the monthly cost, depending on the length of the lease. Lawmakers pay 10 percent of the cost, plus anything above the cap. The Senate gives no breaks for hybrids and has no firm cap on what a vehicle can cost.
"We don't have that steadfast rule. We just encourage them not to go crazy," said Glenda Smith, director of Senate Rules accounting.