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Budget deadlock may cut Schwarzenegger's starring role

As Border Governors Conference starts in L.A., he will spend some of his time on the fiscal impasse.

August 13, 2008|Michael Rothfeld | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — All year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has looked forward to treating Mexican and U.S. dignitaries to a one-of-a-kind California experience at a governors summit he is hosting in Los Angeles starting today.

Schwarzenegger scheduled a 3D version of "Terminator 2" at Universal Studios. He organized a private dinner for the governors at his Brentwood mansion. He recruited his wife, Maria Shriver, to lead a seminar.

In a promotional video, he said the 26th Annual Border Governors Conference would showcase the state "in true Hollywood style, with lots of action and magic."

"I always believe you work hard and you play hard, and I think this will inspire everyone to work hard," he said in an interview.

But Schwarzenegger will have to miss some of his own party because of a far less glamorous side of his life: the summer budget stalemate in Sacramento.

He said he would fly in his private jet between budget talks in the state capital and the governors conference in Los Angeles, which ends Friday.

The other governors will understand that "the budget is the most important thing right now," he said; they too have states to run.

The event is just one example of how the budget deadlock, now in its seventh week, has crimped Schwarzenegger's high-flying style. Schwarzenegger said that if the impasse lasts three more weeks, he will not attend the Republican National Convention, which begins Sept. 1 in Minneapolis. He has been discussing a possible high-profile speaking slot at that event with the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but that "is off right now," the governor said.

"I will not make any commitments," Schwarzenegger said Tuesday. "I will not go on vacation. I will not leave the state. I will not do anything until I have a budget."

The governor has also cut back his frequent public appearances across the state in recent weeks -- the part of his job that he seems to take on with the most gusto. Schwarzenegger, who is not shy about his preference for traveling the state over hunkering down with bureaucrats in Sacramento, has increased the number of days he spends inside the Capitol.

He has ordered layoffs and pay cuts for state workers to save money and threatened to veto legislation unrelated to the budget. He faulted state lawmakers for lacking focus after they returned to Sacramento from a monthlong recess -- or, as he put it, "summer vacation."

"They have been very busy working on hundreds of different bills . . . that have nothing to do with the budget," Schwarzenegger told reporters last week with evident frustration.

Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) said legislators had other important issues to handle, and all of them couldn't negotiate the budget at once. Likewise, he said, Schwarzenegger decides for himself how much else he can do.

"If the governor feels like he can go to the Border Governors Conference and still negotiate the budget, then go ahead," Levine said.

But state Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) said Schwarzenegger should cancel his other events. "I think the reason the governor is frustrated is because he actually has to sit in the building and figure it out with us," Florez said.

Jack Pitney, a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College, said the problem was not only time but also public perception.

"The more he's out of the capital or out of the state, the more his critics can say, 'Look, Arnold is traveling all over while California workers are being asked to take a huge pay cut. If the budget is such a crisis, why is Arnold getting in his jet?' " Pitney said.

Dan Dunmoyer, the governor's cabinet secretary, said that in scheduling the Border Governors Conference for mid-August, the administration believed the budget would be finished a month and a half into the fiscal year. Instead, the governor was in Sacramento negotiating, and filing a lawsuit to compel the state controller to cut the pay of state employees.

Schwarzenegger chose "Building Green Economies" as the theme of the conference, to be held at Universal Studios, reflecting his interest in the environment and business.

The event is expected to cost up to $3 million and is sponsored by General Electric, which owns Universal Studios and also lobbies the state government, along with other private companies. G.E. and other sponsors will show products at a "Green Tech Expo" of environmentally friendly products.

The conference alternates between the Mexican states of Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Sonora and Tamaulipas, and the United States, whose members are New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California.

The governors are expected to be among 3,600 attendees this year, Schwarzenegger's aides said. The purpose is to build relationships and forge agreements to work on issues of mutual concern.

The delegates will agree to tackle the issue of scrap tires, which pollute the border, and are likely to discuss how to deal with sewage treatment, smog, managing wildlife and shortening border crossings for commerce and tourism, according to Dunmoyer.

The governors in the last year traveled to meet with officials in their respective federal governments to collaborate on border issues, and top Bush administration officials are expected to attend this week.

There will be celebrities, movies and attractions far removed from the nitty-gritty of Sacramento. The governor's wife will lead a forum on human trafficking. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck is catering the event. The conference will feature a screening of "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" and a visit to CityWalk.

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michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

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