Lawmakers Lease Cars, Don’t Pay: Leasing or Fleecing?

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HARRISBURG - State records show legislators from our area drive between 10,000 - 25,000 miles a year.
They go to meetings in their district, or commute to the state capital in Harrisburg.

Most use their own cars.They get reimbursed for mileage.

But look at the leases of these area lawmakers:

LAWMAKERS             CAR                           LEASE
Sen. Pat Browne         Ford Escape                 $628
Sen. Lisa Boscola       Mercury Mariner            $558
Sen. Lisa Baker           Mercury Mariner            $558
Sen. Jake Corman      Chevy Equinox              $440
Rep. Sandra Major      Chevy Equinox              $440

State Senators Browne, Boscola, and Baker lease hybrid SUV's.

Government watchdog Eric Epstein of doesn't think any lawmaker should have a state paid lease.

"We view automobile leases the same way we view gifts," said Epstein. You do not need to buy a politician a vehicle, you do not need to give a politician a gift."

Troy Thompson of the Pennsylvania Department of General Services says the state's leasing program is not a gift, especially for lawmakers from our area.

"You have individuals who are high mileage travelers," Thompson said.  "It is more cost-effective to provide them with a state vehicle."

Here`s how:

When lawmakers bill the state for travel in their own cars, they get 55 cents per mile to compensate for gas and wear and tear.

Records show it cost the state an average of $19,000 over two years in reimbursements.

Lawmakers who lease get a gas card to buy fuel.

That costs an average less than $5,000 over two years.

Add an average of $11,000 in leases payments, and the leasing program appears to save about $3,000 over two years.

So if it saves money, why did the Republican House Caucus last year demand its own members like Representative Mario Scavello of the Poconos to stop leasing?

"Frankly, I believe it`s media driven, you know, a state representative with a vehicle," said Scavello, who along with Democratic Representative Eddie Day Pashinski of Luzerne County both had their leased cars taken back by the state after they drove them for five years.

Both Pashinski and Scavello say they weren't allowed to lease a new vehicle, and had to buy new cars.

Both say that will cost taxpayers more.

"Three to four thousand more dollars a year," estimates Representative Pashinski, who believes the leasing program will be increased once more people realize savings.

"My car was paid for in the time that I had it," said Representative Scavello of his Chevy Trailblazer SUV that he drove 180,000 miles.

But Eric Epstein says there's another issue.

With leasing, taxpayers pay for lawmakers' auto insurance bills, even for  legislators with DUI convictions or several crashes on their records.

"Where else in Pennsylvania can you get a vehicle at no cost, and you can get insured at no cost, no matter what your record is," said Epstein. "That`s insane."

One of the few lawmakers who still lease a vehicle, State Senator Lisa Boscola who represents part of Monroe County, notes the state makes extra money when it sells the leased cars after lawmakers have driven them from four to six years.

But the leases will remain a point of debate between those who believe they save money, and those who believe this is a perk that can easily be abused.