Portantino Making Waves, Not Friends

FEB. 24, 2012


Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino isn’t making many friends these days in the Legislature. After a well-publicized battle with Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, over the Assembly’s secretive accounting practices, Portantino has introduced a measure to freeze the pay of California’s highest paid state employees — for the eighth time. But that’s not all. He is also calling for a state audit of the Legislature, and proposing that legislators pay for their own vanity license plates.

Portantino, notorious for forcing Perez to open up the Assembly books and comply with the state-required performance audit of Assembly administrative offices, found himself in a battle last year with his own party’s leadership. But that doesn’t seem to have tempered his agenda.

Freeze! Step Away From The Paycheck

Portantino’s AB 1787 calls for a two-year freeze on state employees who earn more than $100,000. Portantino said  thousands of state employees could and should be subject to the salary and bonus freeze. “It is unacceptable to be giving raises and bonuses when we are still struggling with a budget deficit in the billions and one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation,” Portantino said this week. “We should be making better choices.”

Portantino said that his previous salary freeze bills have been repeatedly killed in the Assembly Appropriations committee. “Over the past four years, my bills on this issue have been held on ‘suspense’ in the Assembly, even though it saves the state money,” Portantino said. “I have reduced the salary amount so the state can save even more money. If President Obama can freeze the salaries of White House employees making $100,000 or more, why can’t we do the same here in California?”

Portantino said that the State Controller reported that more than 3,300 state employees could be affected by the bill, and even more if University of California and California State University employees are included. “The potential savings would be in the tens of millions,” Portantino said. Critical that many university employees, as well as CalPERS money managers, routinely get raises and bonuses, Portantino said that this is an issue the Legislature should be dealing with, but has largely ignored.

Audit The Lawmakers

Portantino also wants the State Conroller to perform an audit of the Legislature.

AB 1887 would require the State Controller to conduct a thorough audit of the state Legislature’s finances for two budget years, fiscal 2012-13 and 2013-14.

In following years, the Joint Rules Committee would hire an independent contractor to perform the audits but under guidelines set by the controller. Under current law, the Joint Rules Committee chooses the auditor, but sets the parameters for the audit.  As Portantino has repeatedly said, the Assembly does not even follow its own rules by not doing annual performance audits.

“This practice has led to large surpluses at a time when the state is facing huge budget shortfalls resulting in cuts to school funding, increased tuition at colleges and universities and decreases in support for aged, blind and disabled Californians,” Portantino pointed out.

What’s really interesting about AB 1887 is that it would require that the Assembly and Senate return any unused funds to the general fund at the end of the legislative year. Then, the money would be earmarked for the Student Aid Commission to use in the Cal Grant program.

“If the Legislature appropriates more money than it needs, let’s help solve this problem by setting a specific agenda for using that surplus and putting in place strict accountability and transparency,” Portantino said.

During the 2011-12 fiscal year, Portantino’s office said that the Assembly and Senate were allocated more than a quarter-billion-dollars to run the state Legislature — $109,350,000 for the Senate and $146,716,000 for the Assembly.  Existing state law allows these funds to carry over from one year to the next, where they remain in the Senate and Assembly Operating Fund.  According to Portantino, the Assembly has been transferring 15 percent of its total appropriation to various state agencies — $52 million over the past three years.

AB 1887 provides that line item monies allocated to the Senate and Assembly cannot be diverted to other agencies or programs, unless such diversion is approved by a vote of the legislature and the signature of the governor.

Pay For Your Own Vanity

Portantino has called for an end of the vanity license plates that current and retired legislators receive — and barely pay for. “I was shocked, but not surprised to see that legislators would carve out a special situation for themselves and I’m determined to put an end to the practice,” Portantino said this week.

AB 2068 would require legislators that have personalized vanity legislative license plates on their personal cars,to pay the same fees that almost everyone else does for them.

Under existing law, current and retired legislators can ask the DMV for a license plate that designates them as a state legislator or retired state legislator.  The cost of these plates is $12 on issuance, and no additional or annual fees are paid with subsequent yearly registration. “Why should current and former legislators get special treatment for the issuance of license plates?  It makes no sense for former and sitting legislators to be treated any differently than everyone else,” Portantino said.

The cost of personalized license plates for the general public is $98. Other-themed license plates cost $50. Annual renewals costs run between $15 and $78.

Portantino said that the DMV reported there are 750 of these legislative license plates issued in California.  “In contrast, average Californians, retired police and fire included, pay $50 upon issuance and $35 per year thereafter.”

Portantino said that he does not drive a state-purchased district car, does not use an Assembly plate and has no plans to receive one upon retirement. AB 2068 will be heard in the Assembly Transportation Committee in about six weeks. While not an earth-shattering amount of money, the outcome of this bill will be significant as well as symbolic. Will legislators vote to pay for their own personalized license plates, or will vanity and entitlement win out?


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  1. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 24 February, 2012, 11:45

    I love this guy. I wonder how many dem cocktail parties Portantino gets invited to? Bumpkis. How does he survive in that snake pit? The dem party probably cuts him off from all dicretionary spending. Portantino would never get an appointed seat of any power in the State legislature. I bet when he enters the door of a dem caucus meeting in Sactown you could hear a pin drop. He must feel like a black man at a KKK rally. I admire his courage.

    Reply this comment
  2. cacheguy
    cacheguy 24 February, 2012, 12:03

    While I applaud his stand, Mr. Portantino’s “tune” only changed when Perez went after his annual offuce budget for not voting along party lines on a single budget vote. I truly wish he would have found his “courage” sooner!

    Reply this comment
  3. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 24 February, 2012, 12:46

    This is all political symbolism and you are falling for it.

    Portantino is no outcast from the Democrat Party – he voted along party lines and is a party hack.

    Here is his voting record as best as I have been able to compile it:

    YES — 1,296
    NO — 43
    ABSTAIN – 87

    Here are some of the bills that Portantino voted NO on:
    AB 109 — prison realignment;
    AB 118 — transfer of public safety to counties;
    AB 121 — “triggering” junior college budget reductions if the state budget falls below $87.4 billion;
    AB 338 — requiring impact statements for regulations having an adverse impact on business;
    AB 515 — offering junior college extension courses;
    AB 520 — requiring ignition interlock devices on autos of drunk drivers;
    AB 877 — DMV suspending drivers’ licenses of repeat drunk drivers;
    AB 308 — guidelines for evidence collecting in criminal investigations;
    AB 35 — requiring cost/benefit analysis of the California High-Speed Rail project;
    AB 373 — forbidding the use of tax exempt bonds on the rail project.

    Portantino’s campaign contributors are big unions, big shakedown law firms, lobbyists, and special interests.

    Portantino is a termed out and pushed out legislator who has no district to run in after redistricting. He is trying to create a new political image as a “political maverick” (NOT) so he might be able to try to run in another district for state senate or U.S. Congress. To do this he must have a wider appeal. Therefore, he is cleverly working on changing his political image. He only opposes California democrats on purely symbolic issues. Look at the list of bills he voted no on above. He voted no on prison realignment, no on junior college budget reductions, no on requiring interlock devices on cars of drunk drivers, no on requiring a cost – benefit test for the high speed rail project. Does this sound like a maverick?

    Portantino has a $900,000 political war chest and he is spending it on re-positioning his image (but not his voting record). He is not a moderate or a maverick.

    Reply this comment
  4. Wayne Lusvardi
    Wayne Lusvardi 24 February, 2012, 12:54

    Here is an article on a new challenger in Portantino’s existing assembly district who is a Democrat and MAY be a real political maverick in her party – Victoria Rusnak. Link below:


    We don’t know enough about Rusnak yet but she is running to oppose the union-backed Democratic Party candidate Chris Holden.

    Rusnak is also obviously running against the tired, old, bankrupting policies of incumbent Anthony Portantino.

    Reply this comment
  5. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 24 February, 2012, 13:17

    I am well aware of Portantino’s voting record.

    I don’t see other Dem legislators stepping up with legislation like this. It’s always news when any politician, Republican or Democratic, will discuss and propose unpopular ideas designed to reign in the spending by legislators, on legislators, as well as those well-connected to legislators.

    – Katy

    Reply this comment
  6. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 24 February, 2012, 16:12

    So politicians act out of self-interest, Wayne? What else is new?

    The fact remains that Portantino has introduced legislation that presses for accountability and by doing so alienated himself from the other state dem legislators. For that he gets a couple points from me. Portantino also voted against the last budget bill. I have never seen another Ca dem fly out formation with his fellow dems. Any dem who is willing to push back against his own party and potentially side with repubs, especially in critical votes that requires a 2/3rd’s majority deserves some kudos.

    Reply this comment
  7. Charles Nichols
    Charles Nichols 24 February, 2012, 21:43

    Portantino also authored the bill which made it a crime to openly carry unloaded handguns in public and now has a bill which would make it a crime to openly carry unloaded long-guns in public -> https://www.facebook.com/events/319854844724845/

    Reply this comment
  8. Rex The Wonder Dog!
    Rex The Wonder Dog! 24 February, 2012, 23:11

    More guns = Less crime!

    Reply this comment
  9. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 25 February, 2012, 09:16

    I am a gun owner, gun user and applying for a concealed-carry permit. However, I don’t plan on carrying an unloaded weapon in public – why bother?

    But, we don’t need a law stating how stupid this is.

    – Katy

    Reply this comment
  10. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 25 February, 2012, 10:01

    I am all for gun rights. I think people who don’t own one to protect their home and family are nuts. But I think the desire to openly carry a gun, loaded or unloaded, in public is pretty stupid and a power play of sorts. I don’t want to walk into a grocery store and see some Don Knotts bozo with a hog strapped to his hip. On the other hand, I think CCWs should be much easier to obtain. Anyone without a violent criminal record or felony, without a history of serious mental illness and who has completed an approved gun safety course should be entitled to a CCW permit.

    As far as Portantino goes, you have to give him points for the good things he’s done and his willingness to rock the boat in the state dem legislature. I refuse to just unload on the guy because he happens to be a dem. Good behavior needs to be commended. Partisanship is killing the country.

    Reply this comment
  11. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 25 February, 2012, 10:11

    I’ve been mugged while walking from my office to the Capitol. I am accosted regularly in downtown Sacramento. I have received threats, and would just like the option to carry at times. And, I want the legal home protection, in case someone makes it past my German Shepherd 😉 — Katy

    Reply this comment
  12. Joanne Genis
    Joanne Genis 27 February, 2012, 12:35

    This Assemblyman spoke at the CPUC Public Participation Hearing in Temple City regarding SCE’s poor management in how it handled the massive wind-storm power outage. His words made a lot of sense at this Hearing.

    Reply this comment
  13. Bob Goodwin
    Bob Goodwin 27 February, 2012, 13:17

    What does his voting record have to do with a common sense issue? Why should legislators or any other politicians feel entitled to freebees at the expense of the general public? This is a common sense issue which does not define itself in the “red” or “blue” category. It seems to me that Portantino is trying to make a difference regardless which side of the aisle is impacted. I say good for him, finally accountability is being called into question. Whoever is taking advantage of this should be called out and made to explain.

    Reply this comment

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