Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday halted new-vehicle purchases by the state and ordered vehicles that are not essential for state business to be turned in.
He also asked branches of government not under his direct authority to consider cutting vehicle and other expenses.
The Democratic governor said he ultimately wants to cut the state's fleet of passenger vehicles in half. He wants to do the same with the number of permits that allow state workers to use their taxpayer-funded vehicles for their daily commute.
The executive order comes three weeks after Brown told half of state employees to give up their government-paid cell phones. Both moves are to help the state close a deficit projected to be $25 billion over the next 18 months.
The administration of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sold nearly 4,000 state vehicles and eliminated more than 2,000 of the so-called home-storage permits during a similar campaign in 2009 and 2010.
The Department of General Services said the state has about 11,000 passenger cars and trucks. It also has issued about 4,500 permits allowing workers not involved in public safety to take their vehicles home.
The department projected that selling 5,500 of the cars and light trucks would save the state $16.5 million.
"There is a lot of wasteful spending on cars that aren't even driven," Brown said in a statement. "And we can't afford to spend taxpayer money on new cars while California faces such a massive deficit."
Schwarzenegger's attempt to reduce the fleet was successful as far as it went, Brown spokeswoman Elizabeth Ashford said. She said Brown's order will exempt fewer agencies and departments, force agencies to use the remaining fleet more efficiently and sell vehicles through online auction sites.
The governor has no control over the Legislature, which provides vehicles for most lawmakers' use in Sacramento and their home districts. An Associated Press investigation in early December found the Legislature had spent $5 million in taxpayer money for its latest fleet of vehicles, which included a $55,000 Cadillac sedan and a $52,000 Lexus hybrid.
California is the only state that provides vehicles to its rank-and-file lawmakers for unlimited use.
A separate investigation by the AP in 2008 revealed that California lawmakers also are the only ones in the nation to have state-issued credit cards that allow them to charge taxpayers for gasoline and other expenses.
Brown's executive order does not mention the Legislature. His spokeswoman said he was not specifically targeting lawmakers when he asked other agencies to reduce their vehicle expenses.
"We hope that everyone else in state government takes a hard look, as well," Ashford said.
Spokesmen for Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, supported the order but said legislators already have cut back on vehicle spending.
Fewer members of the Assembly accepted the subsidized vehicles than at any time in recent memory after a number of newly elected members passed on the opportunity, Perez spokeswoman Shannon Murphy said.
Steinberg spokesman Nathan Barankin said 65 percent of senators now drive a used vehicle or accept no subsidized vehicle at all.
Brown's executive order has the potential to cut into auto dealers' vehicle sales but was taken in stride by the industry.
The Schwarzenegger administration already had reduced new vehicle purchases, and the recession has led to a general decline in fleet sales, said Peter Welch, president of the California New Car Dealers Association.
"I think a lot of people are stepping up and giving the governor pretty high scores for dealing with a $25 billion deficit," he said.