Assemblyman calls for finance openness

Facing drastic cuts to his Assembly budget allowance, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino plans to introduce a bill that would force the state Legislature to disclose spending totals for all of its members.

The Assembly’s Rules Committee ordered Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge) last month to cut spending by more than $67,000 or face staff furloughs and other sanctions starting in October. Portantino contends that the cuts are punishment for being the only Democrat to oppose his party’s state budget proposal.

Each of Portantino’s 11 Sacramento and Pasadena office staff members received orders last week to take furloughs from Oct. 21 through Nov. 30, Portantino spokeswoman Wendy Gordon said.

The Rules Committee, which administers Assembly resources, denied a state Legislative Open Records Act request from Portantino to release budget totals for all members of the Assembly.

That body also refused a similar request from this newspaper.

When legislators reconvene in Sacramento on Aug. 15, Portantino plans to introduce a bill that would force disclosure of Assembly member budgets.

“I’m going to call on my colleagues to support transparency over secrecy, because the public has a right to know how its own money is being spent,” Portantino said.

Dan Schnur, director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, said Assembly members each receive different budget allowances that can be changed by Assembly leaders at any time — a process that almost always remains behind closed doors.

If Portantino introduces a disclosure bill, Schnur said, “It deserves a fair hearing, but it wouldn’t be surprising if his bill never saw the light of day. It’s easy to see how this could be buried in a subcommittee somewhere.”

According to documents provided by Portantino, the assemblyman’s total annual allowance last year was $694,375, of which $657,591 was spent. He is being capped at $518,000 this year.

Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D – Los Angeles), said Portantino’s budget was lowered this year because he is no longer chair of the Assembly’s Revenue and Taxation Committee. Pérez relieved Portantino as head of the committee at the start of this legislative session, but later made him chair of the California Film Commission.

Committee chairs are entitled to higher budgets and staffing levels than chairs of commissions and other Assembly members, according to Swanson.

Gordon said she is still hopeful that staff — including field representatives, who interact with constituents most — will find some kind of reprieve from the furloughs this autumn.

“This effectively cuts off constituent services. Residents of the Assembly district will be disenfranchised by not having representation for six weeks,” she said, adding that Portantino plans to remain in his district office to answer phones throughout the furlough if it takes place.


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