Published : Monday, June 17, 2019 | 4:58 AM
The legendary political power broker Jesse “Big Daddy” Unruh said that “Money is the mother’s milk of politics,” and as Chairman of the State Senate Appropriations Committee, local representative Sen. Anthony Portantino (D) serves as something of a milkman who delivers.
Unruh, a force in California politics throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, knew something about the subject as he once occupied the treasurer’s post and wielded his sceptre over the State Assembly as speaker for seven years.
Many bills come with an associated cost to implement, or a project to fund and, therefore, must pass through the Appropriations Committee, which decides what taxpayer money goes where and when.
As Appropriations Chair, Portantino said he has found himself seeing things more from a state perspective than from a parochial one.
“We have a very big state with regional and statewide needs; urban centers, rural centers coastal and inland, and in this position I work in collaboration with 39 Senators and 120 legislators on a broad variety of issues that meet the needs of the state,” Portantino told Pasadena Now.
The increased contact with different advocates from the nonprofit community, the education community and wide-range cause-dedicated organizations is a source of satisfaction to the Senator: “Given the volume and spectrum of bills that come to me; it’s not just insurance. It’s not just education. Just the breadth of the legislation puts me in contact with a lot of different people.”
As Appropriations Chair Portantino is steering a committee that has gone from hearing 50 bills in a legislative session to one that handles 1,500.
“I think it is the biggest challenge,” he said of the legislative deluge. “The sheer number of bills and working with the appropriate staff to get up to speed on them.”
Portantino talks fiscal policy like a tweedy banker squirelling funds away for a rainy day, instead of a milkman distributing nutrition where he sees fit.
“We’ve just gone through the budget process with our new governor,” he explained. “I’m pleased that our reserves are going to continue to grow. I think that’s important. We have to make sure that during these good budget years, we continue to put money away for an economic downturn. I think that part of our job is to prepare for that and having healthy reserve allows us to do that.”
Which is not to say that as Chairman he can’t favor certain bills over others in the scheduling of hearings and votes and the revisions they are subject to. Portantino recently slow-tracked a controversial housing reform bill which carried huge implications for the state, SB50, by locking it up in committee.
It’s the Chairman who sets the priorities and Portantino’s priorities are those which he believes are closest to the hearts of his constituents, he said.
“I’m going to continue to work on policy interests of mine,” he stated, “public education being number one, gun safety being number two, and protecting the foothills next.”
Among the priorities, Portantino is working on a bill that would start the school day somewhat later.
“It ties together my interests in mental health, education, and children’s health because if we push back the start of school, test scores will go up and suicidal thoughts will go down. We’ll have healthier kids who do better,” said Portantino, who is hopeful a bill will be passed this year.
Portantino said his political life has been about “demystifying the process,” to be approachable. He points out that he is but one of 120 legislators who has his home phone number on his state website ((818) 952-3432, if you’re wondering).
“The work we do is important,” he explained. But I’m not more important than anyone else. My mother told me a long time ago, ‘The day you think you’re important, you’re not.’”