New Orleans Workers Roll in Taxpayer-Paid Cars

Published January 13, 2010

In addition to police officers and sheriff’s deputies, well over 200 New Orleans employees continue to enjoy the taxpayer-financed perk of driving a city-owned vehicle, according to the latest city report and other public documents.
That number would be much higher had the city not revoked the privilege from nearly 100 employees between April and October, the report shows.
The list of people still driving on the taxpayers’ dime includes City Council staffers, the mayor’s top budget officers, many department heads, judges, and a host of other employees who may or may not meet the city’s criteria for having such a vehicle.
Gas, Insurance, Maintenance Covered
The perk also includes gas, insurance, and maintenance, all of which can be an increasingly expensive proposition for vehicles driven by employees who live outside the city. The latest report shows city taxpayers are covering the commuting costs of a handful of employees living more than 30 miles from their workplace.
The list covers only departments under the supervision of the city’s chief administrative officer. That doesn’t include the city courts, the Sewerage & Water Board, the Aviation Board, or such related entities—many of which issue cars to employees.
In general, the employees pay $1,200 per year for the car and related services. As an unofficial bonus, drivers of vehicles marked as city property aren’t likely to get parking tickets, either, as evidenced by the daily glut of city vehicles parking for free in metered spots around City Hall.
Limit Ignored, Then Removed
Until recently the city had a legal limit of 50 take-home cars, which was flatly ignored. Partly in response to a December 2008 Inspector General’s report detailing 274 such vehicles, the City Council removed the cap over the summer.
The Inspector General’s report said the city spent about $9.2 million on maintenance and fuel in 2007, though that includes all city vehicles, not just take-home cars.
Ruling Bars Cars
A 1990 attorney general’s opinion, cited by the Inspector General, makes it clear government can’t offer a vehicle as a fringe benefit.
“No public entity may donate an automobile to an official or employee for unrestricted personal use,” it reads. “All public vehicles must be used for a public purpose subject to the fiduciary duty of the operator. Personal use is permissible only when it is minimal, reasonably necessary and incidental to the authorized public use.”
Steve Beatty ([email protected]) is the investigative reporter for the Pelican Institute for Public Policy in New Orleans, Louisiana.