Budget, hundreds of bills remain unfinished

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger prepares to head out for a week-long trade mission to Japan, China and South Korea, he leaves behind an impressive amount of work. Not only is the state without a budget – more than 10 weeks into the new fiscal year – but there are nearly 800 bills working their way down to the governor’s desk.
Not to worry, insists Schwarzenegger. Everything is under control.

Schwarzenegger emerged from a meeting with legislative leaders Tuesday to say things were moving toward a resolution. “I think that we’ve broken through some barriers that were really hard to get through,” Schwarzenegger said.

 And maybe they had. After that same meeting, Democratic legislative leaders backed off earlier criticism of what their staffs had called Schwarzenegger’s “vacation.” So perhaps there’s some budget hope on the horizon.

Then there’s the matter of the 772 bills working their way toward the governor’s desk. The dust is still settling from last week’s end-of-session marathon, with hundreds of bills still waiting to be processed by the Assembly and Senate.

Just in case, Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado wants Schwarzenegger to know he’s here to help. Maldonado spokeswoman Amanda Fulkerson said “We’re going to help the governor expedite certain things and ensure the executive office is fully functioning while he’s out of the state.”

Does that mean Maldonado will sign bills while the governor is out of town? Fulkerson would not rule that out, but Schwarzenegger spokesman Matt Connelly said there were no plans to have Maldonado sign any bills this week.

Either way, Fulkerson said, anything that does get done will be done with the full cooperation of the governor’s office. “This is about working together as a team,” she said.
So much for Maldonado going rogue.

So while senior staff hammer out details of a budget plan, worker bees in the Capitol and the governor’s office are working to sift through hundreds of bills awaiting the governor’s signature or veto.

If bills are not signed by the Governor by September 30th they go into law without a signature, something that staffers say has never happened under Schwarzenegger’s watch.
The governor does have one thing going for him: this year’s bill load is lighter than usual. Schwarzenegger’s staff estimates there are anywhere from 1-200 fewer bills on the governor’s desk at the end of this session compared to years past. Still, some staff members work around the clock for days on end while the luckier ones work an average of 10 to 12 hours a day filing, distributing, and analyzing bills. They begin their work long before the crunch time begins, closely following each bill throughout the year. As the bills pour in after the end of the session, the entire year of hard work comes down to one month.

Even something as simple as printing the final version of a bill is time consuming. The governor is required to either physically sign or veto a bill in person; there are no electronic signatures allowed, so everything is printed and dealt with by hand.

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