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Calling them public records that Californians have a right to see, Assembly Republicans have asked the Assembly Rules Committee to immediately release detailed, current spending records of each member of the house.

The letter, sent Wednesday by Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway on behalf of her 28-member caucus, comes two weeks after publishers of The Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times filed suit to obtain the records.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez announced this week that he is forming a task force led by Rules Committee Chairwoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, to consider updating house disclosure policies. Recommendations are expected before the start of next year's session.

Robin Swanson, spokeswoman said that disclosure policies are a priority for Perez.

"The speaker created the task force to address the issue, and that's exactly what it will be doing," she said. "It will be looking at all the options."

Conway wrote that the house should "always operate in an open and transparent manner."

"Every year in November, the Assembly releases budget information to the public which is outdated and does not reflect an accurate picture of each member's expenditures," she wrote in the letter, which you can read here.

"We find it very troubling that the news media, advocacy groups and members of the public have been forced to go to court to seek current expenditures that should already be public information under state law."

Conway, R-Tulare, said Assembly Republicans believe that "taxpayers have a right to know how their elected officials are spending their hard-earned tax dollars."

"In order to judge our performance and hold us accountable for how we are spending the people's money in these tough budget times, it is essential that the public and the news media have access to this important information on an ongoing basis," she wrote.

The issue stems partly from allegations by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, that his office budget was stripped by Pérez for his casting the lone Democratic vote against this year's state budget.

Portantino and various media outlets submitted public records requests for current office budgets and spending projections for all Assembly members, records that Portantino claims would prove his accusation.

The Assembly declined to release any current office budget or spending records, saying that they can change throughout the year, contain confidential personnel information, and are used in private communications to lawmakers.

A public-records request to the Senate for similar records is pending.

Without current budget records, Californians cannot tell whether any legislator is spending above-average sums amid recession and budget crisis, or whether legislative leaders are using budget dollars as a hammer to entice or punish members on key votes.

Publishers of The Bee and Los Angeles Times filed suit Aug. 5 in an attempt to force disclosure. That suit is pending.

Pérez, while not directing the release of current spending records, said in announcing creation of the task force Monday that open government is a matter of "paramount importance" and that the "time has come" to update existing policies.

"Members of both parties have expressed concerns to me about making Assembly expenditures more accessible," he added.

"How taxpayer dollars are expended is public information, and it is our job to ensure that the public has access to it," he said.

Portantino characterized Pérez's creation of a task force as outrageous and an insult to the public.

"Let's frankly put all the silliness aside, open the books and focus on the big issues of California," he said.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said the speaker should have ordered legislators to release their office budgets immediately instead of launching a "delay tactic" by creating a task force to consider the matter in months ahead.

"I think it's a huge mistake on his part," Donnelly said. "I think his party will pay for it."

* Updated at 2:41 to add quotes from Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, and to add a quote from Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks.



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