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Legislators release office budgets

Members of both houses of the California Legislature recently released their updated office budgets amid pressure from government groups and news organizations to make the data available to the public.

Assembly members released their figures for all of 2010 and the first eight months of 2011, while senators released only their 2010 numbers.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) had the highest expenditures in 2011, according to the list released by the House Rules Committee. However, Portantino said the figures were manipulated to show him in a bad light.

He held a press conference Monday with Dakin Sloss from California Common Sense, a Stanford-based nonprofit that did its own research on the Assembly data. The group found that some budgets were manipulated to be lower than actual payroll data.

Portantino also introduced legislation to force state lawmakers to comply with the California Public Records Act and be more transparent with their spending.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) was in the middle among Assembly members when it came to total expenditures for the first eight months of 2011, which were $225,127.

Gatto was in office for only six months during 2010, and his staff salaries were a little more than $138,000. Doubling that amount for an entire year — to $276,000 — Gatto would have been the top spender on staff salaries.

Gatto, who won a special election to replace Paul Krekorian in 2010, said the figure probably represents costs associated with what’s called a “caretaker staff,” who work during a transition from one Assembly member to another.

In the first eight months of this year, Gatto’s staff salaries totaled $126,798, which was average among fellow Assembly members.

Gatto also spends more than average on office rental, maintenance and utilities, ranking 11th among the 80 Assembly members for office-related costs, according to the documents.

For the first eight months of 2011, he spent $45,797 on his office, records show.

Gatto said he took over office space used by Krekorian on East Magnolia Street in Burbank, and it is under a long-term lease.

He said he is conscientious about not over-spending and always comes in under budget.

“And I will continue to live within my means,” he said.

Sen. Carol Liu was about average compared to other senators in total expenditures in 2010, logging $952,788.

Her staff salaries were $828,788 and her office rental, maintenance and utilities came in at $41,076, the records show.

She is also one of seven senators who do not use a Senate-issued car, according to the budget data.

Financial aid bill heads to governor

Legislation aimed at simplifying the financial aid process for community college students in California is headed to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown after unanimous votes in the state Assembly and Senate.

The measure, authored by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), would establish a three-year pilot program at 10 community colleges where a free application for federal student aid would be used as the primary application for federal assistance.

Community college students currently apply for either a state fee waiver or the federal aid form — or both.

However, when students don’t file a federal aid form, they miss out on Pell and Cal grants, as well as other state and federal aid programs. Currently, only about a third of eligible students apply for federal aid, according to Portantino.

“The goal of this measure is to end a needlessly duplicative process and get more students to participate in state and federal aid programs,” Portantino said in a statement. “We are losing $500 million in federal aid that will help students and our struggling economy.”

The bill passed both houses in the state Legislature last fall, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

League to discuss education funding

The League of Women Voters of Glendale/Burbank will hold a panel discussion on Sept. 21 as part of its participation in a national study on federal funding for public education.

The discussion will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. in the board room at the Glendale Unified School District’s headquarters, 223 N. Jackson St.

The discussion will be moderated by Glendale Unified school board President Joylene Wagner. The panel members will include Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan and the district’s chief financial officer, Eva Lueck.

Joan Hardie, president of the League of Women Voters of Glendale/Burbank, said the event will be informal, and audience members can ask questions and share their opinions after the discussion. The local league will reach a consensus on several questions in a survey and then send those responses to the national league so it can develop a stance on federal funding in public education.

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