Saturday, August 27, 2011

Today's Reason to Abolish the California Legislature

Watchers of the corruption and graft that characterizes the Capitol dome in Sacramento are abuzz with yesterday's release of office-by-office spending data by both the Assembly and Senate leadership. The story behind the data dump begins with the passage of the latest state budget back in June. After he cast the lone Democratic "no" vote in the Assembly, La Cañada Flintridge's Anthony Portantino complained that his office's budget had been slashed by Speaker John Perez in retaliation. While we'd hardly characterize Portantino as a friend of liberty, his feud with Perez led to a public-records request from the Sacramento Bee and the LA Times; when the Assembly balked at the request, Portantino and a variety of news outlets filed a lawsuit. In the face of mounting public criticism, Perez and Senate President Darrell Steinberg relented, and yesterday posted 2010 spending data and year-to-date 2011 data online.

Unfortunately, neither Portantino nor any advocates of government transparency are likely to be satisfied. At the heart of Portantino's dispute with Perez is the Speaker's contention that his colleague is overspending: since the data provided only pertain to expenses, and not budgets, they're useless for the purposes of proving the contention. Without any information on budgets, it's impossible to determine whether the money is going where it's expected to go. Moreover, the presentation of the data makes it difficult to pinpoint a given office's true expenditures, as member spending, office spending, and spending related to various caucus and committee involvement are spread throughout the documents.

In other words, it appears that the Legislature wanted to quiet public criticism by creating the impression of transparency, without actually providing truly valuable information. Just another day at the office in Sacramento.


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