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CBS2 Investigates: Taxpayer-Funded Luxury Cars For LA City Councilmembers

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.COM) — With the city of Los Angeles facing a $200 million deficit, we found some city councilmembers purchasing fancy cars at the expense of taxpayers.

Veteran LA City Councilman Bernard Parks drives to work in style -- arriving at City Hall in his brand new 2013 Lincoln MKS. And you paid just over $50,000 for it!

CBS2 investigative reporter David Goldstein obtained the bill of sale, which was made out to the city of Los Angeles. The luxury sport utility vehicle was paid for by taxpayers -- and according to Parks, it's not an extravagant purchase.

Goldstein asked Parks about his new vehicle.

"You just recently got a luxury car through the city, a Lincoln," Goldstein said.

"Depends on what you call luxury," Parks said.

"A Lincoln's not a luxury car?" Goldstein said.

"Well it's not a luxury car to me," he said.

Parks and his fellow councilmembers are already the highest paid in the nation with a salary of more than $181,000 a year. On top of that, they can get a car and free gas.

The guidelines say "any vehicle equivalent to a full-size sedan." Money spent while the city has a projected $200 million deficit.

"Why not buy a less expensive car than a luxury car?" Goldstein asked Parks.

"The issue is if I'm within the guidelines of the city, which they established over 10 years ago, then I feel that I am complying with the rules," Parks said.

Parks says he plans on purchasing the car from the city when he terms out of office next year, claiming that will save money. But he's not the only one with a new set of wheels.

This is City Council President Herb Wesson getting into his new, fully loaded 2013 Ford Explorer. The cost? More than $48,000 and, again, billed to taxpayers.

It's complete with chrome wheels and option package 303a which, according to the Ford website has heated and cooled leather seats, a heated steering wheel for those cold LA days and voice-activated navigation.

Goldstein caught up with Wesson to find out more about his new vehicle.

"A lot of options the average Angeleno can't afford?" Goldstein asked Wesson.

"David, I didn't order -- I don't know anything about cars. I indicated the kind of car I wanted. My folks ordered whatever they ordered. At the end of the day it's on me," Wesson said.

According to the invoice, it's an Explorer Limited which is top of the line. Ford photos show the "Limited" name of the back of the car. But not on Wesson's -- sources say it was removed after the car was purchased.

"Did you instruct that?" Goldstein asked Wesson.

"Maybe my staff. I don't remember instructing that directly," Wesson said.

He's not alone. City Councilman Joe Buscaino of San Pedro also has a new 2013 Explorer Limited -- with the Limited name missing.

Buscaino's SUV was more than $50,000 of taxpayer money, loaded with the same options -- plus a DVD player. Goldstein caught up with Buscaino to ask him about this option.

"How does that benefit the people of the city with a DVD player in your car?" Goldstein said.

"You know, great question, "Buscaino said. "I have two young kids and my family goes to a number of events with me."

"You think it was necessary?" Goldstein asked.

"No. You got me on that one," Buscaino said.

We surveyed major cities across the country and found only Philadelphia, Detroit and Los Angeles provide cars to their elected officials. New York, Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle and many others do not give vehicles to city councilmembers.

Mayor Eric Garcetti says he remembers "having a clunker that I drove for many years."

Garcetti drove a 2002 Toyota for much of the time he was on the council. He says he has no control over what cars councilmembers drive -- but says they should save money.

"We need to reduce costs, we need to try to be as frugal as possible and if we're asking people to sacrifice on city services or city employees to sacrifice in our contracts, we need to mirror that as well," Garcetti said.

Kris Vosburgh of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association says new expensive cars send the wrong message.

"The message it sends is they live in a bubble. They either don't have any idea of what's going on around them and the difficulties that people in the real world are facing or they just don't care, Vosburgh said."

Either way -- some are driving in style.

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