Political Landscape: Assembly speaker cancels furloughs

Staffers for Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) gained some job security this week after the battle between their boss and Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) took a new turn.

Pérez on Tuesday lifted orders requiring Portantino staffers to take unpaid furloughs later this month. All employees in Portantino’s Sacramento and Pasadena offices had been told to stay home between Oct. 21 and Nov. 30.

The Assembly Rules Committee initially ordered the furloughs in July, accusing Portantino of overspending his member budget.

Portantino denied overspending. Instead, he said his budget had been reduced as punishment for his June refusal to support the state budget proposed by the Assembly’s Democratic leadership. Portantino said he opposed the budget because it contained cuts to funding for higher education and local redevelopment agencies, and because he opposed prison realignment. He has since pushed for public disclosure of all Assembly members’ budgets.

Pérez said in a statement Tuesday that the furloughs were canceled after two Portantino staffers left their jobs and two others asked for leaves of absence — reducing the amount of money Portantino was spending.

Portantino confirmed the furlough orders had been lifted, but there was no sign of peace between the legislators.

“I’m happy for the staff and happy for my district, but I’m disappointed the speaker is holding on to the delusion that this has anything to do with anything other than retaliation for my independent budget vote,” Portantino said.

Through spokeswoman Robin Swanson, Pérez said that Portantino is not cooperating with efforts to control his office budget, and that future hires “must be accompanied by a spending plan that details how Mr. Portantino will remain within his allocation.”

Earlier Tuesday, Portantino issued a statement asking whether a task force Pérez assembled to address the transparency of Assembly budgets truly had been formed or was meeting in secret.

John Vigna, press secretary for Pérez, said the task force has not yet convened but is expected to file a report as early as January.

In a twist, the two people who left Portantino’s office now work for Pérez on the Assembly Rules Committee, which ordered the furloughs.

Legislative aide Diane Shelton transferred to a job with the Rules Committee this week, according to Portantino spokeswoman Wendy Gordon. Gordon said she believed the other departure Pérez referenced was former Portantino field representative Mark Gonzalez, who went to work as a field representative for Pérez in May.

Portantino said he gave up Gonzalez at Pérez’s request after the speaker initially threatened to cut his budget.

Gonzalez earned $3,000 per month under Portantino, according to the assemblyman’s budget documents. Salary records posted on the Assembly website show Gonzalez now making $3,450 per month. He is identified as an employee of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, rather than as a Pérez staffer.

Portantino believes Assembly members use committee and caucus budgets to conceal their true spending.

“The speaker’s actions aren’t saving the taxpayers any money and exemplify the need for more transparency,” Portantino said.

Vigna confirmed that although he’s listed as a caucus employee, Gonzalez works for Pérez.

“The underlying issue is that the operating procedures of the Assembly are decades old. Obviously they need to be updated, and that’s something the task force is going to consider,” Vigna said.

Portantino said he will continue to press for disclosure of lawmaker budgets despite the reprieve for his staff.

“If the speaker thinks that rescinding the layoffs will deter me from fighting for complete transparency, he hasn’t learned anything from this situation,” Portantino said.

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