State cars are an easy target.
To many, they are an obvious example of a state government with too much money to spend - our money.
But last week, the state Senate Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee wisely held a bill designed to reduce the number of cars in the state fleet by 10 percent a year for five years (with the exception of State Police, gaming-enforcement, construction and emergency-service vehicles).
The bill is sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland - the Legislature's most prolific bill filer. As we said, state cars are easy targets.
But the state has, in fact, trimmed its vehicle fleet - now 9,018 passenger vehicles, including 2,199 State Police cars - under previous administrations, and a representative of the Communications Workers of America told the committee that the state has too few vehicles already. State Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Monmouth, said the 50 percent reduction in the state fleet sounds rather arbitrary. State Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, said that if the state was going to cut the number of cars, it should raise the mileage reimbursement for state workers who use their own cars.
Good points all.
Van Drew's bill does set up a seemingly careful process: The Treasury Department would hire a firm to do a cost analysis of the state's fleet; a panel made up of the state treasurer, a representative of the governor and representatives of the three departments with the most cars would then decide whether to approve or modify the recommendations.
But there is an important distinction to make. The state cars driven by rank and file workers who need vehicles to do their jobs - parole officers, social workers, various kinds of inspectors - are a necessary part of government.
What's repugnant are the elected officials, the commissioners of various departments and authorities and other assorted bigwigs who get state cars - and sometimes drivers, too - simply to make themselves feel important. That is outrageous, and that's what needs to be reined in.
It isn't so much the expense - these perks don't amount to that much in relation to the total state budget. It's the attitude - that public service is about who gets a car and who doesn't.
If Van Drew can figure out how to write a bill that will lead to a 50 percent reduction in that kind of arrogance, we'll be all for it.