California Assembly refuses to make public its members’ budgets

Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, right, talks to Assemblyman Anthony Portantino before an Assembly budget vote in March.

The California Assembly says the public has no right to see lawmakers’ current office budgets and spending projections, documents that could show whether punishment is doled out for key votes.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino raised the issue last month, saying that his budget was slashed shortly after casting the lone Democratic vote in the Assembly against this year’s controversial budget.

Portantino, The Bee and other media outlets submitted Legislative Open Records Act requests seeking, among other things, current office budgets for each Assembly member and any changes to them.

The answer came Monday: No way.

The Assembly Rules Committee, under the control of Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, said that such documents are exempt under a provision covering “preliminary drafts, notes or legislative memoranda” and correspondence to lawmakers’ offices.

“Therefore, records relating to budgets and changes to budgets of the members of the Assembly and Assembly Committees are not subject to mandatory production,” said the Assembly’s written response.

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Portantino, a La Cañada Flintridge Democrat who is eyeing a campaign for Congress, vowed Monday to propose legislation that would “force the books to be opened.”

“I’m going to challenge my colleagues,” Portantino said. “Do they stand for transparency or behind secrecy?”

Jon Waldie, Assembly administrator, said that projections of members’ current budgets and spending can change throughout the year, can contain private information – such as the name of an employee on maternity leave – and are used in private communications to legislators.

“For us, it’s a personnel document,” he said.

The Assembly does post on its website a list of current staff and lawmaker salaries, and it publishes a detailed list of each member’s expenditures each November – but 12 to 24 months after the spending occurs.

Current practices do not allow the public to examine whether members’ budgets are raised or lowered after key votes – or to twist arms.

Though Portantino’s claim of retribution has not been proved, punishment is nothing new in the Assembly – through the years, leaders routinely have ordered a lawmaker who crosses them into a tiny office known as the “doghouse.”

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