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Frugal Ways Make Elder Thriftiest in the Assembly : Legislature: His office tab of $196,223 is 29% lower than the Assembly average of $274,941.

November 22, 1990|MARK GLADSTONE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — As a way to reduce postage costs, Assemblyman Dave Elder wears two hats during legislative sessions: lawmaker and mailman.

The Democrat says that on his frequent flights between the Capitol and his district office in Long Beach, he carries staff correspondence that might otherwise be mailed. "That's why I'm always loaded down with briefcases," Elder cracked.

That also may be why Elder's postage bill--$3,611--was one of the lowest in the Assembly during the 1989 legislative session, the latest for which figures are available. And in terms of overall office expenses, the lawmaker ranked as the Assembly's thriftiest member, reporting a tab of $196,223--a figure 29% lower than the Assembly average of $274,941, according to recent reports.

"I am surprised. We were trying to be as low as possible, but I didn't think I'd be the lowest," said Elder, whose district includes part of Long Beach.

The lowest spender in the Senate, meanwhile, was Democrat Bill Greene, whose district includes Compton, South Gate and Huntington Park. Greene reported office expenses of $310,454 in 1989--about 34% lower than the Senate average of $477,003.

The expense reports cover about 20 different categories, including staff salaries, travel, cars, Capitol and district office expenses, postage, telephones, furniture, equipment, supplies, subscriptions and photocopying. It generally costs more to run a Senate office than an Assembly office because senators represent larger constituencies.

Based on the legislative reports, taxpayers shelled out a total of nearly $5.6 million in such expenses for the 16 lawmakers whose districts include parts of Southeast Los Angeles County and Long Beach.

The lion's share of the expenses for each legislator were for employee salaries and benefits.

The top spender in the 40-member Senate in 1989 was Sen. Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose), with a tab of $626,286. The second-highest spender was an area lawmaker--Sen. Cecil N. Green (D-Norwalk). Green ran up a tab of $585,523--a figure 23% above the Senate average. It was the second year in a row that Green was the Senate's runner-up in expenses.

Another area lawmaker, Republican Frank Hill of Whittier, was the top spender in the 80-member Assembly in 1989. Hill, elected to the state Senate last April, reported expenses of $322,380--nearly 17% above the Assembly average.

Cliff Berg, Senate Rules Committee executive officer, said a variety of factors influence the bottom line of a legislator's expenses. For example, office rents in Newport Beach are considerably higher than rents in South-Central Los Angeles. Also, he said some lawmakers whose district boundaries cross several county lines are allocated more staff and may need to rent multiple district offices.

Green voiced surprise that he was the Senate's No. 2 spender, saying his office has sought to "cut our corners" in spending. He said he expects to rank about 15th in expenditures for the 1990 session.

Green, who initially won his Senate seat in a 1987 special election, cited his status as a legislative newcomer as a major reason for his expenses. He said that for part of 1989, he operated two district offices before consolidating them into one in Artesia. He also said he had three or four additional staff members whose jobs have now been cut from his payroll.

Hill, when asked about his 1989 expense report, complained about the way the spending is tabulated. He described the accounting system as "asinine," charging that it was designed to hide the true number of staffers employed by some members of the Democratic majority in the Assembly. "It doesn't reflect the true staff budgets," he said.

The expense totals, in fact, do not reflect staff and other costs associated with committee assignments. Some committee chairmen--most of whom are Democrats--have additional staff and expenses connected to their extra duties.

Said one Democratic staffer, who asked not to be identified, "If someone has a major committee chairmanship, expenses are defrayed into the committees."

Hill also criticized the report for failing to lump together all of the spending by such Assembly leaders as Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), whom he described as "the guy with the biggest staff in the Legislature."

But Robert Connelly, chief administrative officer of the Assembly Rules Committee, dismissed the criticism as partisan, saying GOP lawmakers are upset because some of them "have spent a lot of money."

Connelly defended the reporting system, saying that the 20 or so categories listed "are the same for all 80 members."

He also noted that while Brown's office expenses were listed as $269,392, the expense report showed that Brown spent another $2 million to run the Speaker's office.

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