By JULIET WILLIAMS, Associated Press Writer from San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, August 22, 2008 - 16:30 PDT Sacramento, CA (AP) -- Lawmakers in the state Assembly have opted not to meet for most of next week, despite a state budget that's nearly two months late and a looming deadline for hundreds of bills to pass out of both houses.
The decision makes it possible for members of the mostly Democratic body to attend the party's national convention in Denver.
Many said they still won't attend the four-day convention, which runs Monday through Thursday.
"I don't think I should festoon myself with buttons and signs and spend a week in Denver," said Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who is a member of the convention's platform committee.
The state Senate said it would meet every day next week.
Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, scheduled Assembly sessions for Monday afternoon and next Friday morning, but denied she was shutting down the Assembly Tuesday through Thursday so lawmakers could attend the convention.
"I don't know who is going to the convention from my caucus. What I do know is that our Number 1 priority is to solve the budget," Bass said.
Her spokesman, Steve Maviglio, said Bass had canceled her scheduled events in Denver and her plane tickets and had no plans "at this point" to attend. Bass was scheduled to attend several events at the convention, including one with U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
Maviglio said there's no need for the Assembly to meet every day next week because many of the bills the Assembly has to act on are still in the Senate, and with the budget unresolved, members have little to vote on.
The Legislature is supposed to wrap up its 2008 session by Aug. 31, although some bills, including the budget, can be acted on after that date.
Many Democratic legislators are delegates to the convention who would vote on the party's nomination of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama as its presidential candidate.
Still, "I can't justify going when we don't have a budget," said Assemblywoman Patty Berg, D-Eureka.
Legislative leaders have been deadlocked for weeks over how to solve California's $15.2 billion budget deficit for the fiscal year that started July 1. Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have proposed several combinations of cuts and tax increases, but Republicans are staunchly opposed to higher taxes and have not offered an alternative.
Schwarzenegger has urged lawmakers to stay in Sacramento until a budget deal is worked out and has left his own appearance at the Republican National Convention the following week in St. Paul, Minn. in doubt.
"Given the fact that the Legislature is over two months past their constitutional deadline and our state faces a looming cash crisis, most Californians will probably be disappointed to hear that the Assembly has chosen not to hold session for most of next week," Schwarzenegger spokesman Matt David said.
Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata said he turned in his convention credentials last week and expects his entire caucus to be in the Senate chamber at 11 a.m. Monday and to remain in Sacramento the rest of the week.
"I can't imagine anyone going. So if anybody goes there and they're not here, then I think all hell will rain down upon them," he said. "We ought to be here, and the public ought to be outraged if we're anywhere but here."
Perata said he was more upset about the overdue state budget than missing his party's biggest party.
Freshman Democratic Assemblyman Mike Davis of Los Angeles said he would go to Denver as long as a budget vote wasn't scheduled next week.
Other Assembly lawmakers remained on the fence, though, noting that only legislative leaders negotiate the budget, not rank-and-file members.
Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, said she was still undecided, but added, "If we don't have official work that we're supposed to be here doing here, part of our job as Democrats is to help elect our next president."
Former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, whose is termed out in November, was rethinking his comments from earlier in the week when he said he would go to Denver regardless of the Legislature's schedule.
"I was gung-ho about going to the convention, but I'm going to take it one day at a time," said Nunez, D-Los Angeles. "I've got to think about what I should do, how it might look for me to be partying at the Democratic Convention when we're without a budget."
Associated Press Writers Judy Lin, Don Thompson and Samantha Young also contributed to this report.
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