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Sacramento Bee
Jul 17, 2007 - 01:00 AM

by Jim Sanders, Sacramento Bee

Stalemate eats into vacation plans:

Speaker tells lawmakers to stay close to Capitol until budget is signed
No state budget? No vacation.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez ordered members of the lower house Monday to cancel vacations until the state's budget stalemate ends.

Numerous Assembly members, including Nunez and Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines, have had to cancel family trips because of the standoff.

"That's OK," said Villines, R-Clovis. "People want us to get our work done -- and that's what I'm going to do."

Nunez, in an e-mail Monday, told Assembly members to stay close to the Capitol every day, including weekends, until a budget is signed.

The crackdown also applies to flights home: Assembly members must foot the bill for their flights and be prepared to return to Sacramento within one hour if a floor session is called.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators remain at loggerheads over a new state budget, which was due before the fiscal year began July 1.

"Is that a big pressure point?" Nunez said of his travel ban. "I don't know. Probably not. But I'll tell you what, I do know a lot of people who have vacation plans this week -- Republicans and Democrats."

Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College, characterized Nunez's new policy as more style than substance.

"It's a nice theatrical flourish," he said. "But there are extremely tough (budget) issues, and people on both sides are going to have to make some serious compromises. There's more at stake than travel plans."

Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata has announced no restriction on travel.

Nunez's comments came Monday during a breakfast meeting with The Bee Capitol Bureau at which the Assembly leader also said he:

- Is open to Schwarzenegger's plan to lease the state lottery to a private vendor for a lump sum payment for as much as "$50 billion in a cash payment."

- Does not regret supporting four recent Indian gambling compacts that were bitterly opposed by organized labor. "I like the unions, they're my friends. But they're not always right. And when they're wrong, I'm happy to tell them that they're wrong."

- Feels that lawmakers unfairly are being branded as unduly influenced by a proposed ballot measure to relax legislative term limits. "I'd like for it to pass. But I'm not going to sacrifice my principles nor those of my party to get it passed."

Each day of the budget standstill, beginning next week, will eat into the Legislature's annual monthlong summer recess.

The Assembly and Senate had been scheduled to adjourn from July 20 to Aug. 20, a four-week hiatus typically used by lawmakers for family getaways.

Lawmakers will continue to earn their $113,097 annual salary and per diem for living expenses during the budget impasse, although the latter will be paid only after a deal is struck.

Ironically, a lengthy budget stalemate could be profitable for lawmakers, because they would be eligible for the $162 per diem if they conduct regular floor sessions. Per diem is not accrued during recesses.

Kevin Spillane, a GOP political consultant who is fighting the term limits initiative, called the prospect of extra per diem payments a "typical shafting of the taxpayer."

"They're actually being compensated for failure," Spillane said of legislators.

If no budget is struck by the end of July, when state bills become due, the deadlock would threaten payments for services ranging from remedial summer school classes to prison food operations.

"We figure that if we're not going to be paying our (state) bills, why should we be paying for legislative travel?" Nunez said. "And that applies to everybody, including myself."

Nunez and his wife, Maria, had planned a family trip to Europe, beginning today.

Villines said he also had scheduled a vacation next week, but he declined to discuss details, characterizing it only as "family time."

Assemblyman Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles, said his family initially had planned to vacation outside California, perhaps even outside the United States.

"Now, if we have a vacation, it will definitely be within California," he said. "Beyond that, everything's up in the air."

Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, said he might have to skip his son's Cub Scout camping trip in Lassen County and a family outing near Santa Cruz if a budget isn't passed this month.

"I'm hopeful that we get it done," he said of a budget deal. "We've got to get it done right, though. That's the critical thing."

Carmen Balber of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a political watchdog group, said Nunez's travel ban marks a stark contrast to Schwarzenegger's recent trips to Europe and Las Vegas during budget talks.

But ultimately, she said, requiring every Assembly member to stay in Sacramento does nothing to ensure a new state budget.

"If the legislative leaders and the governor don't sit down and cut a deal, nothing's going to happen," Balber said.




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