SACRAMENTO — California's stalled budget negotiations took a distinctly partisan toll Thursday as many Democrats began canceling plans to attend the party's national convention in Boston next week.
It was a day when hopes were raised and then quickly dashed in talks that failed to reach agreement on a $103-billion budget. At one point Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) emerged from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office to say a deal was near. Minutes after he left, the governor's spokeswoman came out with a decidedly more downbeat outlook.
But it was parties, schmoozing and presidential politics that was on the minds of many Democratic lawmakers.
All nine senators scheduled to attend the convention -- many as voting delegates -- canceled their reservations after Senate Leader John Burton (D-San Francisco) ordered everybody in his caucus to remain in the state.
"It would be fairly unseemly for people to be off 3,000 miles away when we still don't have a budget," he said.
Some senators, instead of packing for Boston, found themselves sitting in a Capitol lounge holding a sing-along to a tape of the top 100 movie songs and eating pizza. The tape was provided by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), a former child actress.
The No. 1 movie song: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
"It's not quite hobnobbing at parties in Boston," Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) said. "It's an exciting year for Democrats and a lot of us were looking forward to being there. Instead, we'll be sitting in a lounge having sing-alongs."
Many would-be convention-goers in the Assembly were less willing to cancel their plans. And it became a source of some intra-party friction.
"In the words of my daughter, 'Duh' ," Romero said. "You don't take off and go to a political convention until the budget is finished. You stay here and do the job."
Assembly members bristled.
"Everyone will make their choices as it relates to carrying out their duties and responsibilities," said Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles), who plans to leave for Boston on Sunday if a budget agreement is not imminent. "I don't think anybody is acting irresponsibly and needs to be chastised."
Nunez told his caucus members to be prepared to cancel their plans if an agreement comes together by today or Saturday.
Democratic leaders also suggested that they might keep Republican lawmakers from going to their convention in New York next month as payback.
"Every action has an equal and opposite reaction," Nunez said.
Budget talks deteriorated Thursday over a labor law Republicans want changed. The law restricts school districts from hiring bus companies that pay below union scale. Both sides reached a tentative agreement a few days ago that would have given school districts more flexibility to hire private companies.
But that agreement dissolved as lawmakers began considering the final language. Each side accuses the other of trying to sneak in new concessions. Talks are scheduled to resume today.
"Everyone signed off on a conceptual agreement," Assembly Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said. "Now Fabian disagrees with it."
Democrats, meanwhile, remain peeved that issues such as the labor law are included in the budget debate at all.
"These issues are not budget-related," Burton said. "It would be a big mistake for the Republicans and the governor to hang up the whole process over them."
Times staff writer Peter Nicholas contributed to this report.