Budget Crisis? Lawmakers Take a Break for Their Passage to India

Amid warnings that the state’s budget has already fallen billions of dollars out of balance, at least eight state senators are planning to leave Nov. 12 for a two-week trip to India to learn about education reform and environmental protection.

Because Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he may call a special session to deal with the budget shortfall, Senate leader Don Perata (D-Oakland) has approved the trip on the condition that those who fly overseas return to California if a budget vote is scheduled.

Those planning to attend the trip include Sens. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), Dave Cox (R- Fair Oaks), Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego), Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), Bob Margett (R-Arcadia) and Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles). Sen. Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine) had planned to go, but told organizers he may stay home.

"They are one of the fastest-growing global powers," Kuehl said of India. "Part of it is to make sure we have California-to-India contacts for business and education exchanges."

Although the lawmakers are paying their way with money from their campaign accounts, Victor Viereck, president of the Universal City/North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said it is "questionable" that legislators are heading to India "at a time like this when we have such budget problems."

Viereck said the state needs them in Sacramento solving the budget problem, not touring the Taj Mahal. Romero said lawmakers will have nothing to vote on until the governor formally proposes a budget and legislative leaders and analysts review the proposal and prepare something for the full house to vote on, which may be closer to Thanksgiving.

"We don’t want to go through another 85 days of sitting there just hearing no, no, no" from budget negotiators. Viereck was particularly concerned why the trip is being organized by the state to include some senators who are leaving office next month.

Kuehl, who with Ackerman and Margett are leaving office because of term limits, promised a "knowledge transfer" for senators who stay in office through voluntary consultation with Senate committees. The trip, organized by the Senate Office of International Relations in cooperation with Indian government officials, is being held "in order to strengthen legislative ties and to further promote economic, educational, political and cultural relations between California and India," according to the mission statement released by Perata’s office.

Cities being visited by the California lawmakers include Bangalore, Dehli, Goa and Mumbai.

—Patrick McGreevy

Photo: oasis / Your Scene, Los Angeles Times

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