Portantino says he's being punished for vote

The only Democratic state Assembly member to oppose his party’s budget plan last month says that Democratic leaders have threatened to temporarily lay off his staff in retaliation for that vote.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) received notice from Assembly Rules Committee Chair Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) that he must trim $67,179 from his office budget.

If Portantino fails to do so, Assembly leaders will impose sanctions that include forcing his Sacramento and Pasadena district office staffs to take unpaid leave from Oct. 21 to Nov. 30.

“This bizarre and unprecedented action is clearly intended to punish me for my vote and to discourage other Assembly members from performing their duties in a conscientious manner,” said Portantino, who plans to run for Congress next year after he terms out of the Assembly.

Skinner’s letter states that Portantino’s spending in the first half of this year’s legislative session puts him on track to greatly exceed his budget allowance during the second half of the year.

“It’s an accounting gimmick to force party discipline — your budget is no longer approved, therefore you are over budget,” said Portantino, who argues his allowance is being scaled back to create the appearance of an overage.

The budgets of Assembly members are administered by the Rules Committee under the direction of Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles), with whom Portantino has clashed numerous times.

Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for Pérez, said in a statement that Portantino has been warned many times to rein-in spending.

“He was told as recently as April that he needed to bring his office budget into compliance after it was found he overspent his office budget by almost $88,000. Now his office deficit is projected to be $67,179 by Nov. 30. The Speaker made the determination that during difficult budget times, it would be unfair to other members to continue to subsidize Mr. Portantino beyond his office's approved budget,” Swanson said.

Dan Schnur, director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, said Assembly members each typically receive very different budget allowances that can be modified by the leadership at any time — a process that usually remains behind closed doors.

— Joe Piasecki


Local Armenian-Americans last week hailed a state bill extending the deadline for relatives of victims of the Armenian Genocide to file lawsuits in California courts for unpaid insurance policies.

“Hopefully, some of the victims’ families will be relieved,” said Armond Aghakhanian, political chairman of the Burbank chapter of the Armenian National Committee. “I think it’s justice and I think it’s our system working at its best.”

Father Vazken Atmajian, senior pastor at St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale, was also pleased with the legislation.

“This will give them more time so they can bring out the truth and get justice from Turkey,” he said.

The legislation, introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake), extends the deadline through 2016. The extension was needed because victims’ heirs have been able to file lawsuits in California now for only 10 years. Some of those were challenged in federal court, keeping new suits from progressing.

--Mark Kellam


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