By The Bakersfield Californian
In a year of extreme state budget cuts, the California Assembly apparently saw nothing wrong with unloading $200,000 on a legal fight to prevent the release of its members' budgets, which the Assembly has long claimed to be off-limits to the public. Is it any wonder there's a movement afoot to make the Legislature part-time?
Last year, The Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times sued to gain access to Assembly member budgets, arguing for the public's right to see how the body spends $147 million. Assembly leaders claimed the documents were exempt from public records laws because they were drafts and contained confidential information, and they hired a $300-an-hour legal firm to defend this position. It lost, and as a result, on top of its own legal bill of $124,000, must also pay the $74,000 legal tab for the two newspapers. To their credit, some individual members bucked the Assembly leaders and released their own budgets.
The Assembly's initial unwillingness to be transparent was nothing but a colossal waste of money by obstinate leaders who are tone-deaf in the midst of a crisis. Fighting the disclosure of how public money is spent was ridiculous to begin with, but squandering precious state tax dollars to do so only further stokes the public's growing disgust.