The Democrat-Gazette today quotes Gov. Mike Beebe as saying he doesn’t see broad abuses in the number of free cars provided to state employees or the extent to which they are used for personal purposes, particularly commuting.

The Democrat-Gazette has done an admirable job of compiling a database of information it has collected so far on the vehicle question. But, because the information is so fractured, it’s incomplete.

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Apparently some 1,000 employees are allowed to use vehicles for commuting. This is the heart of any question about unjustified use. On-call employees — certain law officers and maintenance workers come readily to mind — deserve the cars. Desk-bound bureaucrats and legislative factotums whose main work drives entail taking a bunch to lunch? Not so much.

Surely the governor has the clout, even over independent agencies, from the administrative office of the Supreme Court to the exalted levels of University of Arkansas, Highway Department and Game and Fish administration, to put together a searchable computer database of the names of ALL state employees with commute privileges and the cars they drive. It is a pay enhancement, no more or less. Let’s make it readily disclosable just like pay itself. (Actually, the state should do some work on a publicly accessible computer database of on public employee pay as well.)

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Just a thought.

Noted (corrected from original post): State vehicle growth exploded under Republican Mike Huckabee’s watch — from 7,700 in 2001 to 8,508 vehicles in 2006, an average of more than 160 a year. The number rose over Beebe’s four years by 145 (by one measure in the story; 311 by another and I can’t readily resolve the difference). Where was Republican candidate and chief car critic Jim Keet during the Huckabee years? Florida, I think. I’ve now taken figures back to 1998. Vehicle numbers grew on Huck’s watch from 7,465 in 1998 to 8,508 when he left office in 206. That’s a 1,043 gain, or 130 a year.

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UPDATE: I asked for more car information, farther back into the Huckabee era. The state can’t produce data farther back than 1998. But this summary sheet gives you a little idea of how this issue is perhaps the slightest bit overblown, at least as something to drop wholly at the feet of whoever is governor.