Thousands of state cars are on the road, and some are being driven by highly paid administrators.
Illinois spends millions of dollars to manage about 10,000 vehicles across the state each year. Most of them are for jobs including patrol officers and inspectors, but many are driven by agency directors and other administrators.
University of Illinois-Springfield political science professor Ron Michaelson used to be the executive director of the Illinois Board of Elections. He said personal cars for administrators were widespread.
“It was a fairly common practice ten, 20, even 30 years ago. Most department heads had official cars and staff in larger agencies also did,” Michaelson said.
He said in recent years the cars have become a political football.
“It was a perk that in some cases was unnecessary,” Michaelson said.
But even with changes, more than a third of the 50 agencies, boards, and commissions with state cars still assign some to particular administrators.
The Illinois Department of Corrections assigns the most personal vehicles at 48. Even when you exclude wardens and prison supervisors who are on call, there are still 17 assigned including the director, his chief of staff, and senior advisor. Their three annual salaries combined equal more than $350,000.
IDOC said the administrators all make frequent trips between sites to make personal cars a better option than using mileage.
Michaelson said providing cars isn’t always financial.
“I think one of the reasons it’s still being done is to attract the kind of high quality people in top level positions maybe you need some extra incentives to bring that person on board,” he said.
The state spent more than $25 million in the 2015 fiscal year on maintenance and replacement costs. The spending averages to about $2,600 per car. The state charges flat rates per car to many agencies in order to cover the full replacement of the vehicle when it ages out.
Michaelson said the numbers pale in comparison to the total $36 billion budget, but he said getting rid of assigned cars is sometimes more about appearances.
“We’re not talking about a large amount of money that’s being spent,” he said. “But when people see state cars on the road they’re saying, ‘Is this really necessary?’”
The trend in many departments has been to pool cars reducing the overall numbers in some fleets, and others have found different ways to prevent abuse of the privilege. The Illinois Department of Human Services charges a small daily fee of $3 to $5 if assigned cars are only used for personal commutes. Michaelson said the decision to move away from administrator cars is about making a political statement as much as a financial one.
“By cutting down official state car usage, you are sending the message we are doing all we can to save money during in a very tough situation,” Michaelson said.
WCIA reached out to some of the departments including Central Management Services who manages state fleets for an on camera interview. They declined.