Reporting from Sacramento — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to jet out of California for a six-day, three-country trade mission to Asia early next month — even if the state has no spending plan in place.
With a state budget nearly two months overdue and California facing the prospect that it could run out of cash within weeks, the Sept. 9 trip would come at a politically awkward time for the governor. Thousands of vendors who do business with the state are not getting paid. And the checks to health clinics that care for the poor are on hold until a budget is signed.
Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders have been locked in a stalemate all summer, with no indication a budget deal is within sight.
"We're going regardless," said Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger's press secretary.
He said Schwarzenegger hoped a budget would be signed before the jaunt to China, Japan and South Korea, "but the Legislature's failure to do its job will not keep us from doing ours."
McLear said the governor's overseas journey — to three of the state's five largest export markets — would help stir up business for California companies and create jobs. "There is not a higher priority for the governor," he said.
Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) said although cultivating business internationally is important, "People are literally dying for a budget and that should be our first priority."
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D- Sacramento) called it a "positive sign" that the governor thinks a deal can be struck "before he goes on vacation."
Although Schwarzenegger's approval ratings have sagged to record lows in California, he remains a popular celebrity abroad.
"Just his presence will attract a number of Korean companies to our events," said Carlos Valderrama, senior vice president for global initiatives at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which is helping organize the Korean portion of the trip.
A nonprofit foundation run from the offices of the California Chamber of Commerce — not state taxpayers — is footing the bill for the trip.