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Portantino accuses Democrats of reprisal for budget opposition

Assemblyman says his budget is being cut and his staff could be put on leave as punishment for voting against Democrats' spending plan. Legislative leaders say the move is purely fiscal.

July 12, 2011|By Michael J. Mishak, Los Angeles Times
  • Assemblyman Donald Wagner (R-Irvine), left, shakes hands with Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Caada Flintridge) a day after they exchanged heated words during the budget debate last month.
Assemblyman Donald Wagner (R-Irvine), left, shakes hands with Assemblyman… (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated…)

Reporting from Sacramento — The lone Assembly Democrat who voted against the state budget last month says his party's leaders are now punishing him for his opposition.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) said the chamber's Rules Committee informed him Friday that his office budget had been slashed and his Capitol and district staff could be placed on unpaid leave for more than a month in the fall.

"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," Portantino said in a statement.

Democratic leaders denied the lawmaker's assertion, saying their motive was purely fiscal. Portantino, they said, had failed to heed repeated warnings to bring his spending into line after he had exceeded his office budget.

"He took no actions to reduce expenditures," said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), chairwoman of the Rules Committee.

Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) decided "that during difficult budget times, it would be unfair to other members to continue to subsidize Mr. Portantino beyond his office's approved budget," said a Pérez spokeswoman, Robin Swanson.

But it is not uncommon in the Capitol for a lawmaker who bucks the party establishment to be switched to a smaller office or lose a committee post. In one case, a lawmaker was even moved across the street.

Last month, Democrats were under pressure from party leaders to unify behind a budget they had produced in the face of Republican opposition. Portantino, who plans to run for Congress next year, broke ranks, citing his objection to deep cuts in higher education, among other concerns.

The move rankled party leaders, who Portantino says are exacting revenge.

"I'm sad for the institution," Portantino said. "What it says is this is a place that will not tolerate someone with a different set of priorities."

Skinner called Portantino "a bit paranoid," saying her committee's routine review of lawmakers' budgets revealed his office faced a $67,179 deficit. Although she acknowledged that the review also found other members' spending exceeded their budgets, she said the overages were "small" compared to Portantino's.

The lawmaker has until Friday to submit a plan detailing how he will resolve his office deficit. If he fails to comply, his office could face sanctions and his staff could be suspended in October. He could also lose his mail privileges and purchasing power.

Portantino has asked the committee to reconsider its inquiry.

"They know what I've been doing," he said. "How can they say I'm responsible for creating an overage?"

michael.mishak@latimes.com

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