ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly rejected $20,000 raises for 28 State Police top brass in mid-January, “shocked,” he said, that the bumps were made quietly in the last days of the Paterson administration as it ordered 900 layoffs. Government, like New York families, has to learn to do more with less, he said then.
Yet few New York families get a company car used for commuting, the way 1,400 state police command officers and investigators did, according to records obtained by The Associated Press.
In response to the inquiries, the administration says it’s looking at whether the government needs to buy, fuel and maintain nearly 60,000 vehicles in state fleets. They include nearly 3,500 trooper cars, almost half individually assigned to investigators and command officers because they may get called to duty from home, although some seldom, if ever, do. State police said they don’t keep track of recalls to duty from home.
“As part of the budget process, everything will be looked at to see where money can be saved and systems can be made more efficient,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Bamberger.
For now, the fleet policy continues as Cuomo proposes a budget with 10 percent cuts in general fund operating costs, including $60 million cut from the State Police and no training class for new troopers for a third year.
The Budget Division in 2009 issued a directive that prohibits personal use of state cars, except at certain times when it’s “ancillary to official business.” It allows “occasional commuting purposes within a reasonable distance, where the vehicle is mainly used for agency business.”
The last official count, by then-Comptroller Edward Regan in 1992, found half of 163 troopers surveyed were recalled between one and 12 times in one year, while 10 percent were never recalled. Also, half the 1.8 million miles driven in 1991 in 180 vehicles — 150 assigned to individuals and 30 headquarters pool vehicles — were for commuting. The auditors found it was “more a custom than a practice based on need,” and that police officials told them the practice had evolved “into an unwritten condition of employment.”
Then-State Police Superintendent Thomas Constantine replied in a letter that it was not policy to provide transportation as a condition of employment, that vehicle assignments would be reviewed as positions were refilled, and command officers are always on call.
With the force down to 4,700 officers, losing about 300 positions to attrition and no rookie classes the past two years, the agency has a $34.5 million budget this year for the fleet of 3,475 vehicles, including gas, maintenance and almost half for buying new cars.
That includes 1,295 marked and 36 unmarked vehicles that are shared by patrol troopers, 1,287 assigned to investigators, 147 for undercover work, 236 to commissioned officers, 197 trucks and vans, and 277 pool cars, according to the agency.
The agency said regulations are a factor.
“Top State Police officials are required to be available for duty at any hour and regulations prohibit a response to a call in a personal vehicle,” spokesman Lt. Glenn Miner said. “As part of the budget process, the State Police will be taking a hard look at all of its policies and resources with a focus on finding efficiencies, but will also maintain its primary role of protecting all New Yorkers.”
The Internal Revenue Service exempts from reporting as fringe benefits the authorized use of police vehicles for commuting. Promotions often mean transfers to other duty stations and can mean long commutes when troopers don’t uproot their families.
The New York State Police Benevolent Association, which represents troopers, sees no reason for cutting back as long as cars are legitimately being used, but most PBA members don’t have the rank or position to have one, said union Second Vice President Daniel Sisto.
Calls to the New York State Police Investigators Association were not returned.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)