Despite budget crisis, state spent $75 million on vehicles, office furniture

Even as the state grappled with a budget crisis last year, bureaucrats spent nearly $45 million on new vehicles, almost $30 million on new furniture and more than $2 million on off-site meetings and conferences, a legislative panel has found.

The expenditures were outlined in a report released Monday by the Assembly Committee on Accountability and Administrative Review, which plans to call on state agency managers to explain their spending at a hearing Wednesday.

“These expenses came despite an executive order from the governor last year for each state agency to cut costs and eliminate vehicle purchases unless they were for emergency purposes,” said Mark Martin, a consultant for the committee.

Some agencies said they spent only what was budgeted and necessary to do their jobs.

The report says that the California Air Resources Board spent $433,000 on furniture last year. Agency spokesman Stanley Young said much of the cost was for building cubicles for new employees at its El Monte office.

“We expanded our staff in a couple of areas, and we first checked with other government agencies to see if they had any surplus furniture,” Young said.

The agency with the biggest furnishings bill, according to the review, was the Department of Motor Vehicles, which spent $1.7 million. A spokesman said he could not comment because he had not seen the report.

Caltrans spent the most on vehicles last year, tallying $10.4 million in purchases, followed by the Department of Parks and Recreation, which spent $5.2 million, the committee reported. Representatives of those departments did not return calls seeking comment. Administration officials say all of the vehicles purchased since the governor ordered agencies to curb spending in July were for the California Highway Patrol, which purchased $17 million in vehicles and is exempt from the governor’s order.

The committee said the Department of Consumer Affairs spent $245,430 on meetings and conferences, including meeting rooms booked at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in San Diego, the Radisson LAX Hotel and the Ayres Hotel in Manhattan Beach.

Agency spokeswoman Erin Shaw had not seen the report but said the agency’s boards often book rooms for public meetings. In other cases, meeting rooms are booked for tests taken by people seeking professional licenses, Shaw said.

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