By Grant Bosse
December, 19 2011
State employees drove 1.5 million miles in state vehicles for non-business use last year, according to a report presented to the Legislature by the Department of Administrative Services. Starting in Fiscal Year 2011, DAS is charged with determining how many miles each state vehicles was driven for official and non-business use, and reporting any car or truck that had more than 15% of its miles driven off the clock.
The 233 vehicles reported to the Legislature were driven 1,504,034 miles for non-business use in FY11, and a total of 4,150,092 miles including official business. That’s enough miles to circle the Earth six times, or make three round trips to the moon. DAS calculates the state’s cost for allowing a state employee to use its vehicles at $.33 per mile, meaning that state employees cost the state $496,331 last year by using their government cars.
However, DAS also calculates how much it would have cost taxpayers to reimburse state employees if they had used their own cars for official business. The state reimburses official travel at $.55 per mile. So in some cases, it is cheaper to let a workers take home a state car than to reimburse them for their official travel. The 233 vehicles that tripped the 15% threshold represent 12% of the state’s fleet of passenger cars and light trucks under 10,000 pounds. The report does not include heavy construction equipment, which can be assigned to state employees but not used to commute to and from the job site. 61 of the vehicles were actually driven more for personal use that on official state business.
Last year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 402, which in addition to directing departments to reduce their overall in-state travel, requires that reassignment of cars that exceed 15% personal use.
For every vehicle that logs more than 15% Non-Business Use (NBU), a panel of state officials led by DAS Commissioner Linda Hodgden decides whether the car should be repurposed within the fleet or retained by its current employee or department. Of the 233 vehicles that tripped the 15% threshold last year, 14 were repurposed while 218 were retained. The NBU report Hodgden presented earlier this month to the Legislative Fiscal Committee states that one vehicle assigned to the Board of Pharmacy was “erroneously logged NBU”. According to the report, there are 1,884 passenger automobiles and light trucks in the state fleet.
Senate President Peter Bragdon (R-Milford) was lead sponsor of SB 402, and said the report delivered the information the Legislature was hoping to find.
“While it is disturbing to learn so many taxpayer-funded vehicles are being used for commuting and other non-business purposes, I am pleased to learn that our efforts to increase the transparency of state government are paying off,” Bragdon said. “This type of information on state vehicle use was unavailable to the public before and I believe its release will give even more public support to our efforts to reform state government.”
Senator Chuck Morse (R-Salem) added that personal use of vehicles sometimes saves the state money, but it should be a fringe benefit for top state officials.
“As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I am constantly aware that we are accountable to the taxpayers concerning how we spend their money. That includes the use of state vehicles,” Morse said. “The vast majority of miles put on taxpayer funded cars should be accumulated by employees conducting official state business, not by employees taking private trips. In New Hampshire use of a state vehicle should be considered a privilege, not a perk that some people get and others don’t.”
Reimbursing state employees for the 2.6 million official miles logged by the vehicles in the NBU report would have cost taxpayers $1.47 million in FY11. DAS estimates that the total cost of maintaining those 233 vehicles was $1.37 million for both official and non-business miles.
The Josiah Bartlett Center will continue our Fleet Week investigation tomorrow.