State to furlough assemblyman's staff

Staff members of Assemblyman Anthony Portantino’s (D – La Cañada Flintridge) district and Sacramento offices received notice Wednesday from state officials that they will be placed on unpaid furloughs for six weeks starting Oct. 21, Portantino spokeswoman Wendy Gordon said.

These temporary layoff orders for the assemblyman’s entire staff come as part of hefty cuts to Portantino’s budget allowance that he argues are being unfairly imposed by the Assembly’s Democratic leadership in retaliation for his opposition in June to their state budget proposal.

"This effectively cuts off constituent services. Residents of the Assembly district will be disenfranchised by not having representation for six weeks," said Gordon, who is one of six Pasadena district office employees who received notice.

Five others in the Sacramento office will also be laid off from Oct. 21 through Nov. 30, bringing the total to 11. Also, the capitol’s mailing room will no longer provide postage for Portantino’s offices, Gordon said.

Portantino has frequently clashed with Speaker John Pérez (D – Los Angeles) and was the only Assembly Democrat to vote against the budget. In July, Portantino was ordered by the Assembly’s Rules Committee, which administers Assembly resources, that he was exceeding his budget and must trim $67,179 in spending or have it trimmed for him.

According to documents provided by Portantino, the assemblyman’s total annual allowance last year was $694,375, of which $657,591 was spent, and this year is now $518,000.

Robin Swanson, a spokeswoman for Pérez, has said Portantino’s budget was lowered this year because he is no longer chair of the Assembly’s Revenue and Taxation Committee.

Pérez relieved Portantino as head of that committee at the start of this legislative session, but later made Portantino chair of the California Film Commission.

Swanson said Portantino had been warned repeatedly that his expenses were over budget. Portantino has claimed that Democratic leaders are instead changing his budget allowance to create an appearance of overspending.

Gordon said she is still hoping that staff — including field representatives, who interact with constituents most — will be allowed to stay on the job this autumn. Otherwise, Portantino will remain in his district office to answer phones throughout the furlough, she said.

In the meantime, she finds irony in the notion that cuts made in the name of saving money could actually result in taxpayers footing the bill for Portantino’s staff to stay home and do nothing.

"[The furlough notice] said we would qualify for unemployment insurance. So they don’t want to pay us, but they’re happy to let the state unemployment office pay," said Gordon.

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