Investigation: State Lawmakers Run Up Taxpayer-Funded Gas Cards After Record Tax Hike

SACRAMENTO (CBSLA.com) — On the same day the California Legislature passed the largest gas-tax increase in state history, CBS2’s David Goldstein found 11 charges for more than $400 in gasoline on state-issued credit cards assigned to both the Senate and the Assembly.

It’s part of tens of thousands of dollars in gas charges we uncovered, but who’s using the cards? The Legislature doesn’t want us to know.

“It would be funny if it isn’t so painful,” said Kris Vosburgh with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which fights for taxpayer rights. “They are raising the gasoline tax 46 percent; they’re raising the car tax.

“Yet these folks don’t want to divulge how much it is that they’re spending on the free gasoline they get.”

Gov. Jerry Brown’s gas tax would fix California’s roads and add 12 cents a gallon to the state gas tax.

More than 80 lawmakers narrowly approved the bill in April, so we wanted to find out how much the Legislature spends on gas paid for by taxpayers.

Goldstein requested monthly statements from state-issued gas credit cards assigned to the Legislature. These are the cards not only used to fill up vehicles used by lawmakers while on business in Sacramento, but other people who work in the Senate and Assembly.

Checking how public officials spend taxpayer dollars is something we do all the time, but this time the credit-card statements have more information redacted than is being revealed, and the names of people using the cards have been blacked out.

The locations where they filled up were also covered up.

Capitol record keepers say they’re not required to reveal the information, relying on a legislative public-records law that says they don’t have to release “records pertaining to the name and location of recipients of automotive fuel or lubricants expenditures.”

Bob Stern, who wrote the California ethics law, says lawmakers “shouldn’t be hiding these records from the public.”

He’s for the gas tax but says hiding how legislators spend taxpayer money is wrong.

“We need to have accountability,” said Stern. “We need to know how much the legislators are spending on gasoline and other automobile expenses.”

But how much each individual lawmaker spends is hidden behind the redacted documents. We do know lawmakers have 71 pool cars to use while in Sacramento on business, and each one has a gas card assigned to it. Other cards are used for legislative business.

In all, we found a total of more than $137,000 in charges from Jan. 1, 2016, through April 2017, all paid for by taxpayers who are now going to pay more at the pump.

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