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• In a bid to save money, a senator drives a plan to privatize the state's fleet

The state of Oregon buys and maintains cars and trucks used by government workers on the job; about 4,000 vehicles make up the state's passenger car and light duty fleet. After five budget-cutting sessions, the fleet budget remains virtually untouched.

Sen. Bev Clarno, R-Redmond, has targeted the department, saying she is convinced that getting the government out of the car business will save money, especially in Public Employee Retirement System benefits.

Randy Hilderbrand, Clarno's point man on the motor pool, says the real estate that makes up the state's motor pool lots is worth $20 million, and that, once sold, the properties would be back in private hands reaping property tax gains for local governments.

Selling the passenger cars, he says, would yield another $5 million.

And because the state would then rely on leased vehicles, repair and maintenance would no longer be an issue. An added plus: The state would no longer be making payments for unused cars to sit in lots.

But Dugan Petty, who handles purchasing for the motor pool, says he has proof that the state would lose rather than save money by privatizing. He points to a 2002 consultant's report that shows costs actually rising after the first year.

That report, written by Maximus Inc. of Maryland, concludes that the state would lose up to $40 million in the second and third years after privatizing Ñ partly, it said, because employees would be likely to transfer to other state jobs, as allowed by union agreement.

The report labeled the move anticompetitive because dealers would raise their rates once they knew the state no longer had its own pool to fall back on.

Clarno says several of the consultants' basic assumptions are suspect. She points to their failure to consider volume lease discounts or include revenues from the sale or lease of state pool facilities.

In the report, Maximus said it based its numbers on retaining the facilities after privatization in case the state chooses to re-enter the market, an idea Clarno says she finds illogical.

'If people thought that way when we had horses and buggies,' Clarno says, 'we'd still have stables everywhere.'

Clarno also disputes the idea that employees laid off from the agency would simply be placed in other PERS-eligible jobs, saying the new private sector contractor would hire them away for their expertise, possibly as a condition of the contract.

Besides, she says, other governments have successfully privatized their fleets and saved money.