Dems to cut Assemblyman's budget after controversial vote

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

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge) received notice Friday from Assembly Rules Committee Chair Nancy Skinner (D – Berkeley) that he must trim $67,179 from his office budget by July 15.

If Portantino fails to do so, Assembly leaders will impose sanctions that include forcing his Sacramento and Pasadena district office staff to take unpaid leave from Oct. 21 to Nov. 30, according to a copy of that letter provided by the assemblyman.

A spokesperson for Skinner was not immediately available.

According to Skinner’s letter, Portantino’s spending in the first half of the legislative session puts him on track to seriously exceed his budget allotment in the second half of the year.

Portantino counters that he has operated within budget parameters for the first half of the year.

“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,” reads a statement by Portantino, who plans to run for Congress next year after he terms out of the Assembly. 

How much Portantino has spent and is allowed to spend was not immediately clear. Skinner’s letter refers to detailed budget projections that Portantino did not release with copies of Skinner’s letter. 

Assembly member’s budgets are administered by the Rules Committee with input from Speaker John Pérez (D – Los Angeles), with whom Portantino has clashed numerous times.

Contrary to the Democratic majority, Portantino has also opposed the dismantling of state-funded redevelopment agencies — a position that provoked a tense, finger-pointing confrontation with Pérez on the Assembly floor in March — and plans for prison realignment that involved the early release of thousands of state prisoners. At the start of this year’s legislative session, Pérez removed Portantino as chair of the Assembly’s Revenue and Taxation Committee.

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.

A nearly $70,000 difference, however, strikes Schnur as extreme.

“[Portantino] would have to be taking office staff on Caribbean cruises to be that far over budget. Not only is this retribution, but it’s the harshest example of this type of payback I’ve ever seen. Usually they just move you to a smaller office and let you stew in a corner,” said Schnur.

“There’s no other plausible explanation:  He’s being punished for his budget vote pure and simple, and the leadership is entitled to do that,” Schnur continued. “There’s no rule against it, but it raises questions about depriving members of [Portantino’s] district of the representation to which they’re entitled.”

In a written response to Skinner, Portantino demands an explanation of when his budget allowance was changed and why it is being reduced.

“I hope that you will reconsider this obvious attempt to discourage [Assembly] members from the conscientious performance of their duties. It will not succeed in silencing me. And I doubt very seriously it will succeed in cowing my colleagues. Heavy-handed actions of this kind can only stain the reputation of the Democratic caucus,” he wrote.

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