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March 27. 2012 4:24PM

Bill to require state vehicle drivers to pay up

CONCORD - The state Senate is expected to vote on a bill Wednesday that would require the drivers of state-provided vehicles to pay the state back for their personal use, including for commuting.

The bill was prompted by a report released late last year by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy that found widespread personal use of state vehicles, particularly among the directors and commissioners for state agencies.

Senate Bill 314 would require employees and officials to reimburse the state for those personal miles. The reimbursement rate would be 55 cents per mile, the rate set by the Internal Revenue Service.

All together, the operators of state-owned vehicles drove more than 1.4 million miles on personal and commuting trips in the 2011 fiscal year, according to a fiscal analysis by the Department of Administrative Services.

Under the bill, the reimbursement money would go to the Highway Fund.

Sen. Chuck Morse, R-Salem, the chief sponsor of the bill, estimated that the policy could bring in $1.5 million a year.

“We're trying to curtail the use of state vehicles for personal use — and if they do (use them in that way), they need to pay the state,” Morse said.

In the bill's fiscal note, the Department of Administrative Services does not provide revenue projections, since the policy could cause a change in the driving habits of employees who have state vehicles.

The department does note the bill would carry administrative costs, requiring the hiring of a full-time payroll officer, with a salary starting at $51,000 in the 2013 fiscal year.

An amendment to the original bill allows the governor and Executive Council to grant exemptions to the policy on a case-by-case basis.

The Senate Finance Committee last week voted unanimously to recommend the bill for passage.

The Josiah Bartlett Center report issued in December found that more than 70 percent of the time, state vehicles were used for personal use, mostly by directors or commissioners to commute between their homes and offices.

The report quickly prompted changes in vehicle-use policy, with liquor, corrections and fish and game commissioners losing their state-provided vehicles. Those agencies instead adopted mileage-reimbursement policies.

Supporters of the state vehicle program have argued that it is reasonable and cost effective for the state to provide vehicles to commissioners and managers whose jobs entail a great deal of travel.


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