Conflict recently arose in the California assembly when Assembly
Member Anthony Portantino accused Speaker John Perez of cutting his office’s
budget for voting against party lines on a recent measure.  Perez maintains that the cuts were made
because Portantino’s office spent in excess of its allotted budget by nearly
$70,000.   Their disagreement is
difficult to evaluate because the Assembly Rules Committee has not released the
relevant data on Assembly Members’ Offices’ spending.  

Realizing this difficulty, the California Common Sense (CACS) research
team has looked into the data that the Rules Committee has made public.  We found two important data sources: the
annual budgets for Assembly Member offices, published by the Rules Committee
for 2009-2010, and information on Assembly Members’ staffers’ annual salaries,
published on the Assembly website and last updated on May 3, 2011.  We compared the information from these
sources to judge how complete an image of Assembly Members Offices’ spending
they provide.

What the data includes:

The reported budgets include Assembly Member Offices’ allocated funds
for 17 categories of expenditure, including staff salaries, per diem, travel,
and communications.  The salary data
lists the salary of each legislator, and the salaries, positions, and names of
all staff members working for an Assembly Member or a party Caucus. 

What We Found:

The sum of all spending in the reported budgets is $16,882,750.96,
which breaks down into $10,240,466.25 reported for staffer’s salaries and
$6,642,284.71 reported for Members’ offices’ operating expenses.  The sum of all Assembly Member Office
staffers’ salaries is $34,038,564.  That
means there is a $17,155,813.04 difference between all spending reported in the budgets, and actual spending on
staffers’ salaries-and a $23,798,097.75 between the reported budgeted spending
on staffers’ salaries and actual spending on staffers’ salaries.  

Admittedly, we would not expect the numbers to line up exactly.  Because the published budgets are from
2009-2010 and the salaries were updated in 2011, there should be some
disagreement because of newly created or removed staff positions.  However, both figures describe offices’
annual spending, and the discrepancy is too large to be attributed to minor
changes in staffing arrangements.  For
the discrepancy to be explained entirely by staff changes, offices would have
to have multiplied the size of their staffs by, on average, a factor of three
between 2009-2010 and 2010-2011. 

The extent of the discrepancies becomes clearer when we look into
individual Assembly Members’ Offices in detail. 
The largest difference between total reported budget and the sum of
staffers’ salaries occurs in the office of Assembly Member Felipe Fuentes. 

Fuentes’ office is budgeted $144 thousand for staffers’ salaries.  The sum of staffers’ annual salaries is $1.6
million.  Fuentes’ chief consultant alone
makes $169.5 thousand annually-more than the entire amount reportedly budgeted
for staffers’ salaries.  The offices of
Mike Gatto and Marty Block likewise report total budgets for staffers’ salaries
lower than the salaries of their highest-paid staffers.

What we conclude:

The magnitude of the discrepancies between the reported budgets and
the amount that Members’ offices are actually spending on staff according to
the published salaries suggest that the budgets are significantly
underreporting the offices’ expenditures. 
We therefore conclude that the published data give an, if not
inaccurate, at least severely incomplete representation of what the California
Assembly spends.  In particular, it is
impossible to determine the actual allotted budget and realized expenditures
for any given Assembly Member’s office.  

California Common Sense (CACS) is a Stanford-based nonprofit devoted to opening
government financial data to the public, informing Californians about
governmental inefficiencies, and promoting effective and efficient government
policies. CACS’s government transparency projects and research harness new
technology to reveal fragmented administration and overlapping state entities.
Visit to learn more.