Bills, but no transparency

The Capitol is hiding details of reimbursements to lawmakers

Last year, lawmakers received more than $450,000 in expense reimbursements for using their personal vehicles. The problem is that taxpayers, who are the ones footing that bill, have no possibility of knowing how that money was spent.

The Legislature rejected the Sacramento Bee’s records request to review mileage logbooks that legislators submitted for 55-cents-a-mile reimbursements for car travel related to their work. What is available are the total amount of miles declared by each legislator and the amount of money reimbursed.

However, lawmakers are refusing to reveal to the public the nature and destination of the trips whose cost per mile is reimbursed—which is especially puzzling given the great disparity in reimbursement amounts between one legislator and another.

It is true that taxpayers saved almost $240,000 per year when the state’s car leasing program for legislators was cut in 2011. But that does not justify hiding the details of an expense totaling more than $450,000.

The Legislature, when it rejected the newspaper’s request, argued its “concerns regarding privacy, security and legislative privilege.”

Meaning, that because of these reasons the public has no right to know whether the reimbursement if justified or is being abused and used to charge taxpayers for personal expenses.

We do not believe in these arguments, which were used years ago to avoid revealing the governor’s meetings calendar. In this case, privacy and security do not hold up as arguments when there are agendas available announcing upcoming events for a legislator—and even less when legislators use special license plates identifying them. And as far as privilege, this should not serve to avoid being accountable to those who pay their salaries and special expenses like this one.