State lawmakers expenditures criticized

SACRAMENTO The Special Session to urgently deal with the state's budget crisis began November 6. With less than two weeks remaining, the chambers sit empty. After meeting privately again with Governor Schwarzenegger, leaders of both parties remain optimistic they can reach a solution.

"I think it's good that we're all still talking, trying to find our way through this thing," said State Sen. Dave Cogdill.

Since November 6, though, more than a dozen lawmakers have been traveling to India, China, and Maui learning about high-speed rail, education and dams paid for by special interest groups or campaign funds.

Senator Ducheny chairs the Senate Budget Committee and is on a bi-partisan trip to India with seven other colleagues.

Ducheny and a couple of others missed a hearing Friday on Governor Schwarzenegger's proposal to solve the state's multi-billion dollar deficit.

Senator Ducheny's staff says she has been in constant contact with them about the budget -- an explanation a government watchdog group isn't buying.

"It's clear that generally speaking, voters feel our lawmakers have lost touch. They are not focused on the important issues at hand," said Kathay Feng, California Common Cause.

Leaders insist it's okay for their members to be away from the Capitol during the crisis because their small, high-level group is easier to negotiate with.

"You can lay out issues and have a more efficient, productive discussion. But there's no question, the members will be back when it comes time to vote," said State Sen. Darrell Steinberg.

But what will they vote on? Nobody's even introduced a budget bill. Less than two weeks remain until the new crop of lawmakers take over and a new special session will have to be declared.

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