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Assemblyman Anthony Portantino complained today that his office's operating budget is being slashed as punishment for his voting no on the controversial state budget crafted by Democratic leaders.

Proposed cuts include placing all of Portantino's staff on leave without pay for more than a month.

The aides essentially would be furloughed from Oct. 21 through Nov. 30. They currently work in Portantino's district and Capitol office, and for the select committee on the entertainment industry that he chairs.

"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, D-La Canada Flintridge, said in a written statement.

Slashing his budget would have a "detrimental effect" on district services and he will ask Assembly Rules Committee to reconsider, said Portantino, who will be termed out of the Legislature next year and is planning to run for Congress.

Portantino released a letter today from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat who chairs the Rules Committee, that warned him his budget could be cut as soon as Monday.

The letter, dated last Friday, said that Portantino's spending was projected to be in deficit by $67,179 by Nov. 30. Though he had received supplemental funding to cover the gap from January through June, no such money had been approved for the remainder of 2011, the letter said.

Skinner asked Portantino to submit a spending plan by Friday to correct his projected deficit.

If no such plan is received, or if it does not solve the problem, Skinner said that in addition to placing staff on leave without pay beginning Oct. 21, the following actions would be implemented immediately, beginning July 18:

• Portantino's mail could not be sent through the Assembly mailroom and stamps would not be issued to him.

• He could not order office supplies, furniture, equipment, or subscriptions to publications.

• Staff travel would be prohibited, including mileage reimbursement for driving within Portantino's district.

Skinner told The Bee that Portantino previously had been warned in April, long before last month's budget vote, that his office budget was in the red and that he needed to tighten his belt.

Skinner said she thinks it is "delusional" for Portantino to blame others for responding to his overspending. "Somehow he feels he's getting more Brownie points around being some kind of independent by sending (an accusatory) letter out," she said.

Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, said "it would be unfair to other members to continue to subsidize Mr. Portantino beyond his office's approved budget."

"The Assembly simply could not continue to cover the spending gap and subsidize Mr. Portantino's overdrawn account," Swanson said.

Portantino said he has not overspent and that the size of his staff has remained relatively stable in recent years, when he has served as chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee and, later, the Revenue and Tax Committee. He no longer is leader of a major policy committee.

Portantino said that Perez and the Rules Committee targeted his office budget only after he bucked Democrats in March on legislation to cut redevelopment agencies, and in June, when he voted against the state budget.

Read the letters below:

Skinner Letter to Portantino

Portantino Response to Asm. Skinner 7-11-11

"I look forward to working with you to address this important budget problem," Skinner's letter concluded.

Skinner's letter did not say whether projected balances in Assembly member budgets have resulted in other lawmakers receiving similar warnings.

Portantino, who has announced plans to run for Congress, said that he did not support the state budget for reasons ranging from proposed cuts to education to concerns about optimistic budget projections and prospects that realigning the state's prison system could increase crime.

Portantino said he has no regrets in bucking Democratic colleagues to vote no on the budget.

"If this is the price for speaking out and taking independent action, I will reluctantly have to pay it," Portantino said of being targeted for budget cuts to his office budget.

"The people of California will judge which of us is properly honoring our oath of office," he said.

* Updated at 5:06 p.m. to add comments from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and from Robin Swanson, spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker John A. Perez.


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