California assembly ratchets up transparency fight

The California Assembly budget committee has voted against making Assembly budgets public. In a 6-5 vote, the Assembly decided not to take up a proposal from Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino which would require the Assembly to disclose its staff budget and expenditures to the public. The committee responsible for the budget has decided that they will wait to take up the measure until the Assembly’s disclosure policies have been fully reviewed, that review is not likely to be completed until January.

As CivSource noted earlier this month, Portantino brought the measure as part of a larger fight with Assembly Speaker John Perez, over the fairness and transparency of the Assembly’s finances. California’s Assembly hasn’t updated its public records disclosure requirements since 1975 and local open government advocates side with Portantino who says they need to be updated. The current rules make it difficult, supporters say, for the public to gain access to records to understand how the Assembly spends money.

Portantino claims his budget was slashed because he was the only Democrat to vote against the state budget. This claim was supported by an independent watchdog organization which reviewed recently released Assembly records and noted that when compared with state payrolls, the numbers didn’t add up. It appears that Portantino’s budget was inflated while other Assembly members’ budgets were cut back from what they actually are when the records where released to the public.

Portantino and the open government groups going through the records also note that much of the actual cost, spending and budget numbers are still obscured in the recent release. Several media organizations sued for access to the records when news of the infighting broke out and the questionable credibility of the released documents is only adding fuel to the fire for transparency supporters throughout the state. Portantino is now calling for an audit of the state’s finance records.

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