Audit shows misuse of state-owned cars
65 state agencies sent $121 million in 2010 on cars
Batman's Batmobile. Starsky's Gran Torino. An Illinois Department of Aging executive's 2001 Ford Taurus.
What's the common thread? All are cars used for work.
Well, actually that's not the case with the Ford Taurus.
As we all know, the Dark Knight dedicated his Batmobile to fighting crime. And being a civic-minded millionaire, I'm pretty sure Bruce Wayne never asked Commissioner Gordon to reimburse his mileage.
Edgy undercover TV cop Starsky also owned his trusty Gran Torino, taking it on a high-speed chase practically every episode. He probably billed the city for gas, but no doubt police Capt. Dobey kept an eye on expenses.
On the other hand, the Department of Aging executive was issued a state vehicle and -- instead of using it for business -- 99 percent of the miles driven on the Taurus in 2010 were back and forth to work.
That's one of the fascinating factoids from a November report by Illinois Auditor General William Holland's staff.
At a time when the state can't pay its bills on time and faces a mountainous debt, we're paying for cars some workers either don't use or abuse, the audit found.
In 2010, 65 state agencies had 16,600 vehicles and spent $121 million on them. Some 5,375 vehicles were assigned to individuals, and 5,150 were allowed to be taken home.
Auditors also uncovered a trend of barely using cars, no records of vehicle use or official policies, errors in annual reports and employees who used the cars mostly for commuting.
This week the Senate is expected to take up a bill already passed by the House tightening oversight on state-owned vehicle use.
About time, said co-sponsor Sen. Susan Garrett.
"These cars are fringe benefits," said Garrett, a Lake Forest Democrat. "The state is barely able to make its payments ... we have a huge backlog of bills -- this is a big price tag for a fleet of cars."
Here's a few other eyebrow-raising items from the audit.
• One Illinois Gaming Board employee used a state-issued vehicle exclusively for commuting from home to work and back. A second employee used a state vehicle for commuting 97 percent of the time. State policy asks that commuting not exceed 30 percent of total miles.
• Three Illinois tollway employees ranked above the 30 percent mark, including one road district manager and a maintenance manager who used state cars to commute 43 percent and 59 percent of the time, respectively.
• One Department of Human Services employee went into the office every day before heading out on business. This made auditors wonder why he needed a take-home vehicle in the first place.
• A Department of Finance and Professional Regulation executive used a state car 61 percent of the time for commuting. Asked to explain, officials told auditors the executive was on call 24/7, although records showed no emergency calls.
• State universities are among the highest entities with state-owned vehicles in 2010: the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign had 1,572; Southern Illinois University had 677; and Illinois State University had 310.
So what do you think? Unnecessary perk or good use of tax money? Let me know at email@example.com.
One more thing
I reached out to state agencies to see if they'd made any changes following the audit. Here's the response so far:
• Finance and Professional Regulation officials said cars are no longer assigned to senior staff or directors although they can use pool cars.
• An Illinois tollway spokeswoman said "in the summer of 2010, the tollway conducted an internal review, independent of the statewide audit, to reduce the number of take-home vehicles from 55 to 33." The agency also noted that removing vehicles from take-home status would have a detrimental impact on its ability to manage crashes.
• And a Department on Aging official said, "Our agencies are continually looking to improve the way the state does business and improve efficiency. This effort, combined with the (audit), led the Department on Aging to convert the use of its one individually assigned vehicle (used by former Director Charles D. Johnson) into a pool car for the agency. The department currently has no individually assigned vehicles.
Took me an hour and 15 minutes to get to work instead of the normal 35 minutes. Ahh, construction season.
Watch out for trouble at Randall and Higgins roads in West Dundee where the intersection is being widened. Lane closures are on the menu until late October.
Local commuter Bethany Snyder-Morse gets the last word on speed cameras -- for now.
She writes, "I'm in favor of red-light cameras and speed cameras. I pass a red-light camera every single day. I am VERY careful at that intersection in Elk Grove Village because I don't want a ticket. Most importantly, I want to keep my family safe. If I were to do something unsafe, I'd deserve a ticket. Speed cameras would be wonderful.
"I don't speed. I live off a road where it's 25 mph. Everybody else does. This means everyone is riding my bumper, unless they are pulled over, as the road is a speed trap. It would be more efficient to let cameras do this work and allow the police to focus on other things. It would probably generate a lot of money due to all these speeders. Great! It could go to the community for programs or improvement."
You should know
Metra is gleeful after a balmy February contributed to one of the agency's best on-time performances in a while. Trains were punctual 97.4 percent of the time, Deputy Executive Director George Hardwidge said. Discussions with the freight railroads, particularly Canadian National, will continue as the agency tries to reduce conflicts and delays. "We're starting to turn the corner on this issue," Hardwidge said.
Mini boycott?The number of people paying tolls is down but revenues are up. The Illinois Tollway reported transactions dipped by 4.3 percent in January and February after tolls nearly doubled. But, the agency is raking in 45 percent more than it did before the hike. Engineers had predicted a 6 percent drop. To put those figures in perspective, there were 832.8 million transactions in 2011 and the tollway raised $686 million last year from tolls and fines.