Friday update: L.A. Times and Sac Bee sue the Legislature seeking release of budget records. More below…
Speaker John Pérez has been making the case for the better part of a year that the city of Vernon is too corrupt to exist.
And true enough, the city has been run for decades by a clique of self-dealing oligarchs, who would stop at nothing to avoid scrutiny and accountability.
But over the last year, Vernon has become progressively more transparent. The Speaker's office, meanwhile, has gone in the opposite direction.
This week, Vernon issued a 52-page report, prepared by former Attorney General John Van de Kamp, that laid bare some of the city's own shortcomings and proposed a package of reforms.
At the same time, Pérez has refused to disclose the Legislature's office budgets, on the (laughable) grounds that those budgets constitute Legislative “memoranda.”*
Here's the backstory: Pérez is in a pissing match with Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who had his office budget slashed after he voted against the Speaker on a series of bills, including the state budget. There's always going to be a few lawmakers who see greater political advantage in bucking the leadership than in obeying it. And it's up to the leadership to punish those folks, because if you don't you'll get more of them. Fine. That's all in the game.
But Pérez has taken it farther than most, and in doing so he's exposed his flank. Pérez is accusing Portantino of overspending his office budget and ordering him to slash $67,000. Portantino fought back by filing a records request for all the Legislative office budgets, on the theory that would prove that he's being singled out for punishment. And his request was denied.
So now in addition to looking like a bully, which no one would really mind, Pérez also looks secretive — which is a problem. In an age where every city and county and state office is posting their staff salaries on their own websites, the Legislature won't disclose their members' budgets. The Legislature, which exempted itself from the Public Records Act in 1975, is now the last frontier in the battle over fiscal transparency.
And these are the folks who want to abolish Vernon for being too insular.
For all its faults, Vernon actually does comply with the Public Records Act. Pérez doesn't. Earlier this year, Pérez asked for about 15 tons worth of records from Vernon. Vernon complied. One of the city's businessmen, Peter Corselli, responded by filing his own request of Perez for tons of emails, correspondence, and so on. He was denied.
The Public Records Act is how we know most of the bad things we know about Vernon. When it comes to the Legislature, we don't know what we don't know.
Friday update: There have been several editorials denouncing Pérez's refusal to disclose these records, and today the Sacramento Bee and the L.A. Times sued the Legislature. Feel the wrath of the state's editorial boards!