SACRAMENTO — As Republican Bill Leonard began to furnish his new office after winning a state Senate seat two years ago, he received a surprising delivery of dilapidated state-issue furniture.
"Half of it was broken down--drawers that didn't work, desk legs that were falling off, shelving that was collapsing," recalls Bob McKenzie, chief of staff for Leonard, whose district includes Claremont, Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and most of Covina.
The items, including desks, file cabinets and tables, had been assigned to the office of Leonard's predecessor, H.L. Richardson (R-Glendora). Years earlier, Richardson had shipped off the furniture, which he described as "prison-looking stuff," and bought his own.
When the furnishings that Richardson had put in storage arrived at Leonard's office, only a few end tables could be salvaged. The rest was piled up in the middle of the office for return to the state General Services Administration, McKenzie said.
Leonard appealed to the Senate leadership for redecorating help and was given permission to buy new furniture. As a result, in the 1989 legislative session (the latest for which figures are available), Leonard spent $16,039 in taxpayer funds for equipment and furniture--more than any of his colleagues in the 40-member Senate.
In fact, according to records published earlier this month by the Legislature, Leonard reported spending $580,127 on various legislative expenses--more than any other San Gabriel Valley-area lawmaker in 1989 and 22% above the Senate average of $477,003. As with most members, the lion's share of Leonard's expenses--$429,000--was eaten up by staff salaries and benefits.
The top spender in the Senate was Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose), with a tab of $626,286.
In the 80-member Assembly, the No. 1 spender during the 1989 legislative session was another San Gabriel-area lawmaker--Frank Hill (R-Whittier). Hill, who was elected to the state Senate last April, reported expenses of $322,380--more than 17% above the Assembly average of $274,941 for the period between December, 1988, and November, 1989.
The expense reports, prepared annually by the Assembly and Senate Rules committees, cover about 20 different categories, including staff salaries, travel, cars, district office expenses, postage, telephones, furniture, equipment, supplies, subscriptions and periodicals. It generally costs more to run a Senate office than an Assembly office because senators represent larger constituencies.
Cliff Berg, Senate Rules Committee executive officer, said that 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 who represent several counties are allocated more staff and may need to rent multiple district offices.
McKenzie, Leonard's chief of staff, cited the geographic factor in defending his boss' spending. McKenzie noted that Leonard's 25th Senate District sprawls over three counties--Inyo, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.
"We probably have more people working out of the district office . . . simply because the district is so large," McKenzie said.
Another reason McKenzie cited for Leonard's above-average spending is that the rent for the senator's Upland office is higher than average. But he added that it will not be boosted over the course of Leonard's four-year Senate term.
Hill and other lawmakers complained about the way the legislative expenses are tabulated.
Hill described the accounting system as "asinine," charging it was designed to hide the actual number of staffers employed by some members of the Assembly's Democratic majority. "It doesn't reflect the true staff budgets," he complained.
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 named, "If someone has a major committee chairmanship, expenses are defrayed into the committees."
Hill also criticized the spending report for failing to lump together all of the spending by Assembly leaders such 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 some GOP lawmakers are upset because some of them "have spent a lot of money."
Connelly defended the system, saying that the 20 or so categories listed "are the same for all 80 members."
He also noted that although Brown's office expenses were listed as $269,392, another table in the expense report showed that Brown spent an additional $2 million to run the Speaker's office.