Senators get a sweet ride on taxpayers’ dime

Senate members were given small plastic cards with the number for “Sacramento 24 hr transportation.”
Senate members were given small plastic cards with the number for “Sacramento 24 hr transportation.”

We can’t say we’re shocked, shocked, to find drinking is going on when legislators are in town.

Many of them spend evenings going from fundraiser to reception and beyond. It’s the politicians’ version of pub crawls. As the evenings wear on, they might have a glass of wine or three.

Almost annually, some legislator embarrasses the Legislature by having too many, and getting arrested. It is bipartisan. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León doesn’t want that sort of news on his watch.

But we are somewhat surprised that de León, having cut 39 Senate staff positions when he came to office last year, hired two part-time aides in February whose duties could include driving senators safely to their homes after they’ve spent too much time in undisclosed locations.

The Bee’s Alexei Koseff and Jim Miller last week quoted one man who turned down the position as saying the job description – spoken, because no one would put it in writing – entailed giving senators rides “if they were drinking too much,” among other chores. The Senate service runs 24 hours a day. Assembly rides end at 1 a.m.

Drunken driving is a public health scourge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 10,076 people died in alcohol-related crashes in 2013, including 1,149 children. No one should drive after having had one too many. So de León’s instinct is understandable.

And the $2,532 monthly pay for each of the drivers is a pittance, given California’s $170 billion budget. The special services aides’ duties could include more than merely chauffeuring senators. They would be available to walk staffers to their cars after hours, for example, or get legislators to airports at odd times.

Still, expecting taxpayers to pay for wobbly senators’ after-hour rides is certain to gnaw at any working stiff who, in similar situations, would call a friend, or a cab.

Besides, even if legislators call cabs, they probably wouldn’t be using their own money. Most of them collect $142 in per diem, tax-free, when the Legislature is in session, more than enough to cover cab fare and a tip.

Of course, if taxpayers are expected to pay drivers to tuck senators in at night, logs of the trips, including names of the legislators and the times and places of the pickups, ought to be open for public review. We await the results.