Is It A Bad Thing for State Workers to Save Taxpayers on Work Travel?

As the sharing economy has grown in California, we’re changing how we approach many common life transactions.

When we’re looking for a repair person to fix a broken toilet, now we might look to Thumbtack to bid out of the job when before we would have called a traditional plumber – at a higher cost.

I can’t remember the last time I called a taxicab to go to the airport or get a ride home after an evening with friends at a bar or restaurant.  But I can surely remember using Uber or Lyft to get a ride home after every holiday party I attended last Christmas.

In researching hotel options for a trip I’m planning to London next year, I calculated that staying at an Airbnb could save us between $200-$300 per person over a traditional hotel.  I’ve used Airbnb to book accommodations at apartments and condominiums in Barcelona, Sydney, and Auckland in the past, and saved significantly over a hotel in every city.

The savings do not only extend to personal travel.  Employees can save for business travel when using any of these services.  Taxpayers also save when state workers use these services for work travel.  Yet, this has become the latest political hot potato at the State Capitol.

Unfortunately, the new economy and the sharing economy are running up against the defenders of the past once again in Sacramento.

The Sacramento Bee reports that Unite Here, the union representing hotel workers, is opposing a bill by Assemblyman Tom Daly, D-Anaheim (Assembly Bill 2777) that would make permanent a law passed in 2015 that allows state workers to use these sharing economy services while traveling on state business.

This effort is the latest move by the old economy to encourage their allies in the State Legislature to put the thumb on the scale and protect the old way of doing things.

The union wants state workers traveling for business to go back to the days of staying at a traditional hotel staffed by union hotel workers.

These so-called peer-to-peer services are popular with state workers.  The Bee reports that 4450 state workers requested reimbursement for ridesharing rides, and 3800 requested reimbursement for staying at a short-term rental.

Unite Here argues that the state can’t establish contracts with Uber or Lyft for a cheaper state rate if this bill is extended.  But this is mere grasping at straws.  I know from my past working in state government that the state has contracted lower rates with various hotels, airlines, and rental car companies. 

Surely, taxpayers are paying even less than the contract rate when state workers stay at an Airbnb or ride Uber or Lyft when traveling on state business.  From my experience using these services while traveling for work, they almost always charge less than hailing a cab or renting a car.

The bill cleared its first committee hurdle with a unanimous vote in April but faces a long journey ahead to becoming state law.

Tim Anaya is Communications Director for the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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