Politicians’ actions speak louder than words — My Sunday Column

Events in recent days — from the eviction of Occupy L.A.
protesters from the grounds of Los Angeles City Hall to the open-records
lawsuit inspired by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino’s defiance of his party’s
leadership — have exposed a level of political hypocrisy that ought to make
everyone uneasy.

Hypocrisy is rampant at all political levels today with what is really going on
in the back rooms of government having little or no connection to the story fed
to the public.

It’s just a coincidence that the week’s events exposed
liberal hypocrites from Sacramento to Los Angeles.

With savage devil winds slamming his constituents, it wasn’t a good time for
Portantino to publicly gloat about exposing the utter contempt his party’s
leadership has for taxpayers and their money.

Last summer, the La Cañada Flintridge Democrat did the unthinkable: He cast the
lone Democratic vote against a state budget that everyone knew was phony, based
on inflated numbers for revenue and the savings from cuts.

For his stand, Portantino was stripped of funding to pay his staff, which faced
furloughs as long as six weeks. He fought back by exposing one of the
Legislature’s deepest secrets, the real cost of their staffs — an action that
prompted the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee to sue for all the records of
how the Legislature spends nearly $150 million a year for its own care and
upkeep.

On Thursday, Sacramento Judge Timothy Frawley ruled the spending records are
indeed public, finding the Assembly leadership’s claims that their own
open-records law doesn’t apply to them was ridiculous.

“In a somewhat ironic twist,” Frawley wrote, “the Assembly argues the ‘Open
Records Act’ should be given a narrow interpretation that significantly
restricts the public’s right to inspect legislative records. Further, the
Assembly argues that the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers
prohibits this court from enforcing any other interpretation. Both arguments
lack merit.”

The ironic twist was not lost on Assembly Speaker John Perez, who didn’t even
bother to have his lawyers contest the judge’s tentative ruling.

(READ FULL STORY)

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How One Politician Made a Difference

EDITOR”S NOTE: Assemblyman Anthony Portantino of LaCanada-Flintridge dared to stand up to his own Democratic Party leadership that controls the state legislature by voting against a phony budget and for that he was punished by Speaker John Perez with threats to furlough his entire staff for more than a month. Portantino than exposed the outrageous lies about how much the Assembly spends on staff, prompting the LA Times and Sacramento Bee to sue for the full information — a move which led Perez to release false and incomplete information. The Bee now reports in this article about how they hide the truth of their outlandish spending from the public:

Calfiornia Assembly Reports on Lawmakers’ Spending Misleads the Public

Assembly records show that Bob Blumenfield spent $150,099 to run
his office for the first eight months of this legislative year.

None
of his colleagues, in fact, spent more than $297,579, according to
budget information Assembly leaders recently made public.

Yet the
Woodland Hills Democrat actually spent more than three times that much,
because salaries of some of his personal staff were charged to the
budget committee he chairs, a Bee analysis shows. Spending reported for
other members is similarly misleading.

The Assembly routinely underreports the amount of money used to run
legislators’ personal offices and overreports the operating costs of
committees that do the brunt of the policy work in the house. The
practice obscures how the lower house’s $146.7 million budget truly is
spent at the Capitol and protects legislators from public criticism of
their spending.

Chiefs of staff for 40 of 52 Democratic lawmakers,
for example, do not count as a member expense in records released to
the public.

More than 170 aides bankrolled by committees are not
committee staff – they serve as personal office aides to the chairman or
chairwoman, The Bee found.

The key issue is not accounting but
transparency: Californians pay the tab but have no practical way of
determining how much each lawmaker spends to run his or her office.

“The
Legislature and its leadership have perfected shell games to an art
form,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
Association.

Others say the Assembly’s practices are neither new
nor unreasonable because duties tend to overlap between committees and
legislative offices.

“You’re looking for black and white,”
Assembly administrator Jon Waldie said of job duties. “Black and white
doesn’t exist in this building.”

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Anthony Portantino: From Obscurity to the Spotlight, a Politician Doing What’s Right

It was
like watching a remake “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” rewritten as “Mr.
Portantino Goes to Sacramento” — the accidental politician becomes the
reluctant revolutionary.
In barely two months, Portantino has gone from the relative
obscurity of serving quietly and industriously as one of California’s
120 lawmakers to stumbling into the political spotlight as a lone voice
challenging the leadership and record of failure of a hopelessly
gridlocked Legislature.

He has made headlines in newspapers
across the state, inspired editorials sharply critical of Assembly
Speaker John Perez’s abuses of his power, prompted two major newspapers
to sue the Legislature for refusing to release how much it spends on
itself and its staff — that’s taxpayer money, not the special-interest
money that puts them into office and provides costly favors to them.

For
daring to break ranks from his fellow Democrats and voting against a
state budget based on phony revenue estimates while putting dangerous
criminals onto our streets early, doing nothing to provide jobs or hold
government agencies accountable, Portantino is being treated like a
political leper by his own party leadership.

They have issued
notices to his staff that they will be furloughed on Oct. 21 for 40
days, claiming that he overspent his budget — the same budget they
refuse to release for all legislators. On Thursday, they tried to
squelch Portantino’s right to speak on the Assembly floor when he tried
to praise three Republicans who joined him in defying the speaker by
releasing their budgets themselves.

“I can’t concern myself with
retribution,” Portantino said near the end of our 90-minute
conversation. “I just have to be who I am and connect to the people I
represent. You can’t do anything else.”

This isn’t a personality
squabble. It’s about honesty in government. Transparency.
Accountability. Solving the people’s problems. Fixing what’s broken.
Spending tax money wisely. Looking after the public interest, selling
out to special interests.


(READ FULL STORY)

UPDATE: Democrats Cannibalize Each Other — Chiang Halts Pay to Legislators over Phony Budget

EDITOR’S NOTE: Legislative reaction was fierce to Controller John Chiang’s decision to cut off their $400 per day pay as captured by the Sacramento Bee. Herer’s what my representative, the head of the budget committee, had to say: Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills:

“The Controller is acting without clear legal authority. He has
confused having the responsibility to cut checks with having the
authority to be a judge and jury on the budget. He signs our paychecks
but Proposition 25 does not make him our boss – that role is reserved
for the people who elected us. … If his action stands, it will have
grave implications on future budgets. His action suggests that we are
not a co-equal, independent branch of government vested with the
constitutional authority to craft the budget. And, that’s not what the
people voted for when they passed Proposition 25.”

Sacramento Bee reports:

Controller John Chiang announced today he has blocked pay for lawmakers, rejecting his own party’s spending plan as insufficient to satisfy a voter-approved law on timely budgets.

In doing so, the Democratic controller exercised unprecedented
authority, establishing a new role for his office under Propositions 25
and 58 to determine whether a legislative budget is “balanced.”

“My office’s careful review of the recently-passed budget found
components that were miscalculated, miscounted or unfinished,” Chiang
said in a statement. “The numbers simply did not add up, and the
Legislature will forfeit their pay until a balanced budget is sent to
the Governor.”

The controller said he determined that the Democratic budget spent
$89.75 billion but only provided $87.9 billion in revenues, leaving a
$1.85 billion imbalance.

Assembly Speaker John A. Perez said in a statement that he believes the controller “was wrong.”

“The Controller is, in effect, allowing Legislative Republicans to
control the budget process and I believe that’s a very unfortunate
outcome that is inconsistent with the intent of Proposition 25,” said
Pérez, D-Los Angeles. “In the coming days, we will be taking additional
budget action informed by the Controller’s analysis, and consistent with
the values of the budget we passed last week.”

Chiang has determined that the majority-vote plan Democrats sent to Gov. Jerry Brown
last week was not a “balanced” budget and therefore did not meet
lawmakers’ constitutional obligation for timely passage of a spending
plan. Brown immediately vetoed the budget Thursday, less than 16 hours
after passage, dubbing it “not a balanced solution” and noting that it
relied on legally questionable solutions.

In his determination, the controller highlighted one component of the
budget that he believes ran afoul of the state’s Proposition 98 minimum
guarantee for school funding. The Democrats’ budget underfunded K-12
schools and community colleges by $1.3 billion, Chiang said. John Mockler,
an education consultant who wrote Proposition 98, said in an interview
last week the Legislature would have to provide that money if courts
intervene or at some future date if revenues come in as projected.

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