In April, when Pennsylvania State Rep. Brad Roae’s legislation to forbid lawmakers from using state-leased vehicles was being debated in committee, the elephant in the room was the set of charges filed just a few months earlier against a fellow legislator following an accident in her state-issued car.
This week, as the bill came to the House floor for final consideration, that lawmaker, Rep. Margo Davidson, D-Upper Darby, and Roae each took the opportunity to make their case for and against the state issuing cars to lawmakers. Ultimately, it was Roae’s point of view that prevailed as the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved House Bill 482.
Davidson was charged in January with leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident and driving on a suspended license while using a state-owned vehicle. While she wasn’t named during the April committee meeting, references to the incident made clear that it was on lawmakers’ minds as they considered the legislation.
On the House floor this week, Davidson focused her remarks on Roae’s assertion that eliminating state-leased cars for legislators would be a savings for the state. She echoed other Democratic lawmakers who had cited an analysis by the Department of General Services claiming that using state-leased vehicles was actually cost-effective.
“This is nothing more than political theater, Mr. Speaker, but it is not economic realities,” she said. “So I urge the members to please vote ‘no,’ and let’s legislate in a way that truly, truly saves taxpayers money. And it is not by eliminating the few state vehicles that legislators use. I personally don’t have one at this time.”
Roae, R-Crawford County, questioned how DGS had arrived at its conclusions, noting that he himself had a longer commute from his district in western Pennsylvania to Harrisburg than most lawmakers, and when he had calculated his own travel expenses, he’d determined that using a state-leased vehicle would be more expensive for the state than simply claiming mileage. By Roae’s reckoning, the cost analysis swings even further away from using a state-leased vehicle when the distances are shorter.
He also made clear that his bill wasn’t going to take cars away from any current legislators.
“This legislation actually grandfathers the vehicles that are currently issued,” he said. “So we’re not talking about anybody in this room, we’re talking about people who, by current law, might walk in tomorrow and say they want a state-issued vehicle. … It’s not targeting anybody. It’s not political. It’s not political theater. It’s not election-related. This is moving forward.”
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry Township, whose State Government Committee had originally examined Roae’s bill, noted that oftentimes in the private sector, businesses offer neither staff cars nor mileage, given that workers have the option of noting their mileage on their tax returns and getting reimbursed that way.
“I know there’s a small number of individuals in this General Assembly that are still taking leased vehicles and want to still hold on to that, what they see as a benefit,” he said. “Today they’re trying to argue it’s a benefit on behalf of taxpayers. I think they’re totally, 100 percent wrong.”
Roae’s legislation passed on a vote of 140-44 and heads to the Senate for consideration.