By JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press
Posted: 08/15/2011 10:53:38 AM PDT
Updated: 08/15/2011 10:53:40 AM PDT

SACRAMENTO — The Assembly this month released budget figures that should have shined a light on lawmakers’ spending, after a formal request for them from a legislator who is embroiled in a feud with the Democratic leadership over his office budget.

Instead, the documents offer an incomplete and at times contradictory picture. For example, they show some rank-and-file Republican lawmakers — in the minority party — with more lavish budgets than the Assembly speaker or the Democratic heads of powerful committees.

The numbers were released in response to a request from Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada-Flintridge, who is feuding with Assembly Speaker John Perez. He says Perez, a fellow Democrat, slashed Portantino’s office budget when he refused to vote for the state budget earlier this summer. Perez says Portantino was overspending, a charge Portantino denies.

The Assembly Rules Committee, which oversees such records, released dozens of pages of documents to Portantino after he requested them under the Legislative Open Records Act.

They listed lawmaker spending for the year that ended on Nov. 30, 2010. But the committee refused to release lawmakers’ current budgets, saying they are not subject to LORA, the separate law that governs the Legislature, because they include “preliminary drafts, notes or legislative memoranda.”

The committee also released general spending records for the Assembly’s committees and party caucuses, but they did not offer details about the lawmakers who benefited from that spending, making it impossible to form an accurate picture of each lawmaker’s office spending and staff size.

Portantino provided the documents to The Associated Press. The Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times have filed a lawsuit in an effort to force public disclosure of lawmakers’ current budgets.

Portantino, who is running for Congress next year, plans to introduce a resolution Monday that would force the Assembly to adopt the budget for each of its 80 members in public and assign funding uniformly so it would not be subject to the whims of legislative leaders. He also wants to require an annual spending audit by the state controller.

“The public should know how the public’s money is being spent,” he said. “That’s fundamental. No gray area.”

According to the publicly released documents, total spending for Assembly lawmakers was $62.7 million for the 12 months ending last November — $24.8 million directly for lawmakers and $37.9 million for caucuses and committees.

The records request Portantino filed last month covered only the state Assembly. In the past, the 40-member state Senate also has made only general, previously published information about lawmaker spending available to the public.

Each lawmaker is given a base budget — about $263,000 this year — but many receive hundreds of thousands of dollars more in so-called “augmentations,” which are lumped together in committee budgets, making it nearly impossible to link spending to individual legislators.

Most members of the Legislature remain unwilling to publicly challenge the numbers that have been released, even as they privately acknowledge they have little relation to actual spending.

The figures released in response to the requests by Portantino and the media show annual office spending for those in the Assembly through the end of November ranging from $224,439 for then-Assemblyman Juan Arambula, a Central Valley Democrat-turned-independent, to $370,746 for then-Assemblyman Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, now a state senator.

Not shown are the hundreds of thousands of dollars in augmentations lawmakers receive for committee assignments and party leadership posts.

“The budget information released tells a very incomplete story and only serves to obfuscate rather than inform,” said de Leon’s communications director, Greg Hayes. “What someone should really be asking is, ‘Where are all the missing budget puzzle pieces?'”

For example, Perez’s total spending on staff salaries in 2010 is listed as $228,871, yet his chief of staff, Sarah Ramirez Giroux, alone makes more than $190,000 a year.

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