It’s China, Hawaii and India for California legislators

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The record-late budget that lawmakers passed in September is already so far in the red that the governor was forced to summon lame duck legislators back to Sacramento for an emergency budget session. Only, as the SF Chronicle reports, many of them haven’t bothered to stay in town.  More than 15 lawmakers, including 8 members of the Senate and Assembly Budget Committees, are currently out of state on trips to China, India and Maui. Several missed an important committee hearing last week, and will miss this Sunday’s last chance to vote.

I can’t help but think that if the whole legislature was coming up with budget ideas, rather than leaving all decisions to the ‘Big Five,’ they might ease the gridlock and actually come up with some solutions to the state’s fiscal crisis.

Besides, these junkets are usually no more than occasions for lobbyists to cozy up to lawmakers. I don’t think lawmakers who are off touring dams will use that experience to plug cracks in the budget, any more than I believe that there’s something new one Assemblywoman can learn from riding another bullet train. (I don’t know if that’s really what she’s doing in China, but it’s a pretty good bet.)

Summer vacation didn’t help the Big Five come to a budget agreement this summer, and winter break in new exotic locales is going to be counterproductive this time around.

As reported by the SF Chronicle: 

The legislators include Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny, D-San Diego, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, and several Assembly Budget Committee members who missed a hearing on the crisis on Friday. At least two of the lawmakers are not expected to return by Sunday’s planned floor sessions of the Senate and the Assembly, their staff members said.

The two-week jaunt through India for eight state senators was sponsored by the California International Relations Foundation, a nonprofit tied to the state Senate. The goal of the trip is to promote cultural, economic and political relations. Among other things, the senators were scheduled to observe India’s education system and its burgeoning high-tech industry.

The attendees are: Ducheny, Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro; Sen. Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles; Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles; Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks (Sacramento County); Sen. Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine; Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica; and Sen. Bob Margett, R-Arcadia (Los Angeles County).

Ducheny started making arrangements for the trip six months ago and booked nonrefundable hotels, said John Ferrera, her chief of staff. She has been in daily communication with her staff and Perata’s office about the budget negotiations, he added.

"As far as our office is concerned, she is no less engaged in the process than if she were in her San Diego office," he said.

While the India trip is scheduled to end Nov. 26, staffers of the attending senators said they expect the lawmakers to return in time for Sunday’s floor session.

The trip to China was coordinated in part by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco. Attendees include Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch; Assemblyman Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar (Los Angeles County); Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto; Assemblywoman Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield; and Assemblyman Anthony Adams, R-Hesperia (San Bernardino County).

The trip was scheduled between Nov. 8 and Thursday, which resulted in Huff and Fuller, members of the Assembly Budget Committee, missing an informational hearing Friday on the state’s budget crisis.

"Unfortunately, we were given a short notice on the hearing," said Jennifer Franklin, director of Fuller’s Capitol office. "The hearing was informational. No public testimony was given, no votes were taken. She will be briefed, and I expect her to be back in Sacramento on Sunday for the floor session."

But Huff is planning to miss Sunday’s scheduled Assembly floor session. Junay Gardner, Huff’s spokeswoman, said he is scheduled to return next week because he was asked to stay longer by Chinese officials to speak Thursday on port traffic in California.

A third trip for lawmakers was held from Nov. 9 to Friday on Maui, a conference sponsored by the Pacific Policy Research Foundation, a nonprofit that is run largely by former or current lawmakers or their spouses.

Telephone calls to the foundation seeking information on the attendees were not returned. But one lawmaker missed Friday’s Assembly Budget Committee hearing due to the Maui trip.

Will Shuck, a spokesman for Assemblywoman Patty Berg, D-Eureka, confirmed that she attended the Maui conference and didn’t return until after the hearing.

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