Legislators Must Make Office Budgets Public

Court rules that Assembly Must Turn Over Records

by Brian Leubitz

Asm. Anthony Portantino has had his run-ins with Assembly leadership. Many of them, some of which resulted in getting tossed in one of the so-called “doghouses” and getting his office budget cut.  The spat got really nasty when the Rules Committee demanded a rather large cut from his office and accused him of overspending.  Portantino then took it upon himself to release his budget records and demanded that the rest of the Assembly do the same.

That was a few months back, and since then the Senate has released most of their records but the Assembly is holding back. Perhaps it is part of the Portantino feud, or perhaps it is just to be consistent with years past.  Nonetheless, a Sacramento judge issued a tentative ruling yesterday ordering the Assembly to release the records.

Earlier this year, Assembly administrators had claimed that the records were confidential under provisions in the Legislature Open Records Act that exempt “preliminary drafts, notes or legislative memoranda” and “correspondence of and to individual members of the Legislature and their staff.”

On Thursday, Frawley said the Assembly “improperly withheld” the records and chided the lower-house for its “somewhat ironic” view of the open-records law, with legislative lawyers arguing for “a narrow interpretation that significantly restricts the public’s right to inspect legislative records.”

“The records requested by the news organizations indisputably contain information relating to the conduct of the public’s business,” Frawley wrote. “The records all reflect how Assembly money is budgeted and spent, which is critical to an understanding of the Legislature’s operations.”

The judge strongly rejected the Assembly’s argument that the records qualified as confidential “correspondence” under the open-records law.(LA Times)

Tentative rulings are rarely changed, and the Assembly has apparently seen that it really isn’t worth the PR hit to continue this fight, at least for now.  Yesterday they announced that they won’t be protesting the ruling at the hearing with the Judge.  However, they can still appeal, but again that is hardly without risks.  The longer this goes on, the more (negative) attention it gets.  And with an approval rating hovering around 10%, that’s really the last thing the Legislature needs.

While we might not get the records right away, expect to see them fairly soon. Heck, who knows, maybe some interesting information is hiding out in those budgets.

One thought on “Legislators Must Make Office Budgets Public”

  1. But at this time, in this way, the issue just feeds into the “government is the problem” frame. No matter how small a legislator’s office budget is, John & Ken will figure out a way make a scandal of it.

    So let’s try to keep thing in perspective. If we add the Senate’s operating budget of $146 million to the Assembly’s $138 million, the total ($284 mil) is only 14% of the Judiciary budget, 3% of Corrections, 2% of Caltrans, and 1% of Education.

    Perhaps more importantly, the legislature’s combined budget is slightly smaller than the money spent by lobbyists in Sacramento this year: $288 million. If my Rep needs to hire an extra staffer to sift through the mountains of information dished out by insurance companies, the prison guard’s union and the Sierra Club… so be it.

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