The Union-Tribune has been talking recently about automobile allowances for public officials. There was this longer story Sunday by Matt Hall detailing what all the local agencies give officials to reimburse them for driving. And then, today, columnist Logan Jenkins weighed in.

Here was Jenkins’ money quote:

Travel allowances aren’t really reimbursements. They’re stealth gifts, a feathering of the nest for public servants who want a tip, a gratuity to make their lives a little happier.

But he didn’t follow this train of thought very far. So he didn’t get to the greatest part of these deals especially for, say, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. Hall also missed, or didn’t care, about this point.

What is it? The Board of Supervisors each get $12,000 a year in an automobile allowance. This was boosted a year and a half ago from $8,000. But this is considered compensation for the Supes. And that means, it factors in their salary when you go to calculate their pension. You might remember I went on about this back when they boosted the allowance.

Supervisory Cruising

So that means, when County Supervisor Ron Roberts suggested, and his colleagues agreed, to boost their automobile allowances in 2006, they also boosted the pension they would eventually receive from the county. This belies any argument they can ever make that all they are doing is reimbursing themselves for all the travel they’re doing. It’s just another benefit — another way to boost their salaries and pensions without calling it that.

Finally, what’s the funniest part about this? Most county employees, the ones the supervisors oversee, only get reimbursed the way most of America does — with a straight mileage allowance, the kind where, like Jenkins, wives and husbands everywhere have to remind their spouses to write down all the miles they drive.

Without the automobile allowance, the supervisors earn $143,000 a year. With it, more than $155,000 a year. And it’s that total that will be used to factor the pensions that they’ll collect for the rest of their lives after they retire. Unless, of course, they get another raise.

SCOTT LEWIS

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