Politics & Government

Fearing lobbyists, California leaders keep budget talks secret

SACRAMENTO — Five Californians are trying to solve the state's budget crisis, in part by keeping the other 38 million residents in the dark.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the four legislative leaders have continued their negotiations behind closed doors for weeks, bypassing open legislative committees and offering the outside world few details as a precondition of their talks.

They fear special interests will mobilize on every proposal they hear about, ramp up pressure on lawmakers and prevent any possibility of reaching a deal that could secure enough votes.

"Whether it's education or labor or any of the other groups, when we get wind of something that has significant jeopardy for us, we fight against it," said Kevin Gordon, a lobbyist for hundreds of California school districts. "It's a (lobbying) system set up to defeat the latest idea that's been hatched, which makes it that much harder to get a solution."

Leaders have yet to announce they have solved the state's $40 billion deficit, despite earlier pledges to reach agreement by Feb. 1. Meanwhile, state Controller John Chiang has stopped paying some bills, and Standard & Poor's downgraded California's general obligation bond rating Tuesday from A+ to A, the lowest in the nation.

When they do reach a deal, legislative leaders intend to hide it as long as they can until a floor vote, for fear that lobbyists may undermine the agreement by persuading key legislators to vote against it.

Read the fulls tory at sacbee.com