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Legislature posts members’ spending

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Friday, August 26th, 2011 at 6:00 pm in California Assembly, California budget, California Legislature, California Senate.

Bowing to political pressure, the California Legislature has released its members’ office spending numbers, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But the man who started this debate, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, called the reports released by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, D-Los Angeles, a joke.

“If these documents were not posted on the Assembly’s web page, I would think they were an April fool’s joke,” Portantino said in a statement. “Today, Assembly Speaker John Perez released 8 month expenditures that continue to mislead the public on how the Assembly operates. The documents released hide true and accurate accounting of staff budgets and complete staff expenditures. I once again implore Assembly leaders to come clean and open the Assembly to true transparency. The documents released today are an insult to the public.”

Portantino has been feuding with Perez over cuts to his office budget.

Incomplete or not, an examination of the numbers shows that the bulk of the members’ annual expenses are staff salaries. And state senators have office budgets four to five times bigger than assemblymembers.

Interestingly, the Senate GOP Caucus spent more than its Democratic counterparts: $1.58 million for the Republicans vs. $1.52 million for Democrats. The Republican floor leader spent $1 million, while the Democratic floor leader spent $477,161. Aren’t Democrats the majority party?

I was also curious about East Bay members’ spending.

In a sampling of Assembly expenditures of Dec. 1, 2009, through Nov. 30, 2010:

  • Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo:  $322,459 total expenses, of which $171,034 went to salaries. Her second-highest expense was $65,590 for communications.
  • Former Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (now state superintendent of public instruction), D-Antioch: $321,972 total expenses, of which $223,288 went to salaries. His second-highest expense was $52,017 for rent and utilities in his district office.
  • Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley: $278,678 in total expenses, of which $225,820 went to salaries. Her second-highest expense was $28,967 for personal per diem.

Assembly expenditures from Dec. 1, 2010 through July 31, 2011 (eight months):

  • Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord: $257,476 total expenses, of which $178,917 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was $34,217 for rent and utilities at her district office.
  • Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo: $244,868 total expenses, of which $148,267 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was$28,812 for rent and utilities at her district office.
  • Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley: $204,113 total expenses, of which $158,691 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was $24,328 for personal per diem.

Senate expenditures for Nov. 1, 2009, through Nov. 30, 2010:

  • Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord: $1.09 million in total expenditures, of which $847,134 was salaries. His second-highest expense was $63,289 for his district office.
  • Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley: $922,551 in total expenditures, of which $851,505 was salaries. Her second-highest expense was $28,797 for personal per diem.
  • Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro: $983,547 in total expenditures, of which $802,258 was for salaries. Her second-highest expense was $72,592 for her district office.

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  • Elwood

    What an unbelievable waste of taxpayers’ money!

    Another excellent argument for a unicameral legislature which meets for a month every two years.

    I don’t know about you, but I sleep much better when the legislature is not in session.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUIxrfKPZX4 Walter

    Speaking of Legislative Open Records Act requests. I sent this to the Assembly Committee on Rules/Chair Nancy Skinner/Anthony Portantino. I have yet to receive a response.

    August 19, 2011

    Attn: Assembly Committee on Rules/Chairwoman Nancy Skinner/Assemblyman Anthony Portantino

    Sent By E-mail and Fax

    To All Whom It May Concern,

    The purpose of this letter is to get the California State Assembly Committee on Rules, Chairwoman Nancy Skinner and Assemblyman Anthony Portantino to comply with The Legislative Open Records Act (Government Code 9070-9080) so that I may receive access to information concerning the people’s business specifically related to Assembly Bill 144 [Portantino].

    The Legislature has found and declared that access to information concerning the people’s business by the Legislature is a fundamental and necessary right of every citizen in this state (Government Code 9070).

    I am an American citizen, residing in the State of California and entitled to all privileges of access thereof.

    I Demand:

    1.) All legislative records containing information concerning the people’s business specifically related to Assembly Bill 144, including any writings, pictures or sound/audio whether paper, magnetic or electronic.

    2.) All records of communication, related to Assembly Bill 144, between Assemblyman Anthony Portantino and any Public Safety Officials (Law Enforcement/Police) employed within the State of California.

    If the records requested exceed 100 documents please provide a location and a time for review and inspection, after which I will specify the documents I would like to have copied. If possible, I would prefer to have access to all of this information immediately. If not, as soon as possible.

    You have 10-days to comply!

    -Walter

  • Allen Payton

    Why are State Senators’ budgets 3 to 4x larger than an Assembly member’s when they only represent twice as many people? It appears to me that the Dems are hiding some their members’ costs in the Committee budgets.

  • John W

    Re: #3

    I’m not defending the Senate budgets by any stretch. However, a couple of factors are worth noting. First, a California state senator represents 38% more people (40 districts) than a California member of Congress (55 US House districts). Also, with our term-limited legislature, you get first and second term people in leadership and key committee positions. Even if well-intentioned, they don’t know what they’re doing. So, staff and lobbyists run the joint. We have too few members in both the Assembly and Senate. The solution to that is not to increase the number (god forbid) but to go with a unicameral legislature with 120 members (same as current Assembly and Senate combined). Districts would represent fewer people, and justification for large individual staffs would be less.

  • Rick K.

    Re: #3 – Allen Payton has an excellent point. Committee budgets likely are hiding some expenses that ought to be attributed to individual legislators.

    Re: #4 – I agree 100% with your statement about committee chairs in the Legislature being sometimes well-intentioned people who don’t know what they’re doing. Many legislators are little more than amiable dunces. However, a unicameral legislature is a bad, bad idea because a “second house” often saves the public from bad legislation pushed by the leadership of the other house. Can you imagine if the entire legislature were controlled, for example, by either Willie Brown or John Burton? I regret to say that too many legislators follow their leaders like sheep. Two houses means two “shepherds” with their own, sometimes clashing egos. Sometimes it’s these clashing egos that keeps special interest legislation from passing through both houses.