Assemblymember Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) introduced a bill to ensure transparency in legislative budgets and auditing last week.
AB 1887 calls on the State Controller to conduct a comprehensive and systematic audit of the state Legislature’s finances for a period of two years (2012-13 and 2013-14). In following years, the Joint Rules Committee would hire an independent contractor to perform the audits but under guidelines set by the Controller. Under current law, the Joint Rules Committee chooses the auditor and sets the parameters for the audit. And, the Assembly does not even follow its own rules by not doing annual performance audits.
AB 1887 requires that the Assembly and Senate return any unused funds to the General Fund at the end of the legislative year. Those surplus monies would then be earmarked, subject to allocation by the Legislature, for the Student Aid Commission for use in the Cal Grant program.
AB 1887 provides that line item monies allocated to the Senate and Assembly cannot be diverted to other agencies or programs unless such diversion is approved by a vote of the legislature and the signature of the Governor.
“It’s time to bring in an independent agency to allow for much-needed transparency and accountability in the Legislature,” explained Assemblymember Portantino. “This bill will require complete disclosure of the expenditure of monies allocated to both house of the Legislature in the annual budget. And at the end of the year, any surplus goes to help maintain Cal Grants for needy college students. Accountability and preparing our next work force should be top priorities of the Legislature.”
During the 2011-12 fiscal year, the State Assembly and State Senate were allocated more than a quarter-billion-dollars to run the state Legislature ($109,350,000 Senate and $146,716,000 Assembly). Existing state law allows these funds to carry over from one year to the next where they remain in the Senate and Assembly Operating Fund. The Assembly has been transferring 15% of its total appropriation to various state agencies – $52 million over the past three years.
Portantino concluded: “This practice has led to large surpluses at a time when the state is facing huge budget shortfalls resulting in cuts to school funding, increased tuition at colleges and universities and decreases in support for aged, blind and disabled Californians. If the Legislature appropriates more money than it needs, let’s help solve this problem by setting a specific agenda for using that surplus and putting in place strict accountability and transparency.”