by Max Brantley
We're trying to get more details, but a lawsuit was filed today in Pulaski Circuit Court challenging apparently any personal use of state-provided vehicles. This is an expansive suit, beyond just the question of whether the state constitutional officers — who have explicit constitutional pay limitations — violate those limits by getting vehicles for personal use, a fringe taxed as income by the IRS.
I'll be interested to see plaintiffs, lawyer and theory. But there are a wad of state vehicles out there — more than one per employee at Game and Fish last time I checked. Some minor use of a publicly owned car is allowed even by the IRS when it would be inconvenient to do otherwise. But does provision of a car to someone who uses that public property a great deal of the time for strictly private use amount to an illegal exaction of public dollars? Sounds like we may be about to get a judicial answer.
UPDATE: Here's the lawsuit.
Gene Sayre, who has a rich and sometimes successful history of class action illegal exaction suits, is one of the plaintiffs lawyers. This is a direct challenge to practice that has truly become cancerous. The state of course should pay for business travel for its employees. But should it effectively subsidize commuting and other personal vehicle costs? The lawsuit promises to get a state accounting that's needed. It might also cause a little introspection on the part of city and county governments that throw cars around as if they have little value. Named defendants all enjoy use of state cars. The lawsuit notes the state owns more than 8,000 vehicles. Some are truly state vehicles of course — think highway department trucks and state motor pool cars strictly employed for office use. The gray area count will be interesting.