State workers are easy targets. Especially state workers driving state cars. Everybody has a story, right? About the time they saw a state car ... at a mall, at the movies, at a liquor store.
But a bill to install GPS trackers on state cars - a measure proposed by Assemblyman Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, and Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth - would create an expensive and unnecessary program.
Legislation based on anecdote is rarely a good idea.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, state cars are one of those things some people love to be angry about.
In fact, there are fewer state passenger cars now - 8,882, according to the Department of the Treasury - than in previous years. And, according to The Star-Ledger, complaints about alleged misuse are down, not up.
There were 696 complaints last year, the paper reported. That's down from 753 in 2011 and 846 in 2010. Slightly more than a third of complaints were determined to be unfounded.
Like Van Drew's proposal last year to eliminate 10 percent of state passenger cars every year for five years, the proposal to begin a GPS-tracking pilot program is a response to a popular, but misguided, concern.
There's no surplus of cars. Most of the vehicles are assigned to a pool and are not used exclusively by one worker. In fact, state workers must sometimes wait for hours for a pool car to be available.
Furthermore, there are strict guidelines that require employees to fill out detailed logs about how they use a state car.
And while there is no doubt that there are real abuses - just as there are with private-sector workers using company cars - many times there are good reasons why you might see a state car at a mall or a movie theater or someplace else you think it doesn't belong.
For example, a social worker could be taking a child to a meeting with family members, Hetty Rosenstein, the head of the Communication Workers of America, the largest state-workers union, told The Star-Ledger.
Besides, we have to say ... if a state worker occasionally does run a personal errand in a state car, how much do you think that actually costs you? And how much do you think it would cost to eventually track all state cars?
Tracking some state vehicles could make sense. The state Department of Transportation, for example, recently put tracking systems in about 3,000 trucks to better deploy equipment and to make sure employees aren't goofing off.
But that system cost a whopping $22 million. The cost/benefit ratio of tracking all state vehicles simply doesn't make sense.
Folks, if you want to be outraged, don't be outraged about rank-and-file state workers - parole officers, social workers, various kinds of inspectors - driving taxpayer-funded vehicles. That's a necessary part of government.
No, if you want to be angry, think about all the elected officials, Cabinet members and other highly paid people who get state cars - and sometimes drivers - just to make them feel like bigshots. Now that's an outrage.