ST. PAUL -- First Charlie Weaver got a raise when he left his post as Jesse Ventura's Commissioner of Public Safety to become Gov. Tim Pawlenty's chief of staff. Now he's getting a better ride.
State officials recently signed a $6,036 per-year lease to provide Weaver a four-wheel-drive Toyota Highlander for the next four years.
It's a step up from the Dodge Intrepid that Weaver, of Anoka, was provided as commissioner, but Weaver has volunteered to pay $100 per month of the Highlander's cost.
"If you're on duty 24-7, you need to be able to get there when they call you," said Weaver, noting that Ventura's top aide had a Jeep leased for him.
"Let's say there's a terrorist act this weekend. I need to get there, so I needed a four-wheel drive."
Weaver's pay is $120,000, up from the $108,383 he made as commissioner and nearly as much as Pawlenty's $120,311. Weaver and Pawlenty are longtime friends, but each described Weaver's move from commissioner as a sacrifice of sorts because the former lawmaker liked his job.
The state traditionally provides vehicles to the governor and lieutenant governor, top commissioners and, recently, chiefs of staff.
Ventura's top aide, Steven Bosacker, had a Jeep that was rented for about $400 per month. Weaver noted that once fuel, insurance costs and his own contribution are factored in, his vehicle will be cheaper for the state.
Before that, Bernie Omann, Gov. Arne Carlson's chief of staff, was provided a car from the Department of Public Safety.
Weaver said he offered to pay part of the cost because of budget concerns. "If we're going to cut agencies 15 percent, I thought it was appropriate that I pay 20 percent, or whatever this works out to."
Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, though, questioned the vehicle's cost. "Someone should remind them that there's a budget deficit."
And Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, questioned whether the governor's office has authority to offer cars to employees, regardless of whether past governors did.
"He should chip in the entire cost of the lease," Cohen said of Weaver. "There is no authority in state statute anywhere for employees of the governor to be able to lease cars at taxpayer expense. That is especially true at a time when we are going to be slashing budgets."
On Tuesday, Pawlenty will announce his plan for dealing with a $4.2 billion budget deficit.
Pawlenty is being driven in a black Lincoln Navigator, a full-size luxury sport utility vehicle Ventura broke with tradition to lease at $8,700 per year. Governors typically have leased Cadillac or Lincoln sedans. The lease expires in June.
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