As the hours ticked away on a budget solution that was about to slip from the Legislature's grasp, some lawmakers urged their online supporters to action.
"36 hours until the deadline," said an e-mail from one. "16 Hours Left!" blared a missive from another.
Except they weren't talking about the budget. They were begging for campaign cash as a deadline for reporting donations neared.
That was last week, when lawmakers missed a chance to save $3 billion from an expiring fiscal year. Now, 11 days into the new one and more than a week after California began issuing IOUs, business in the state Capitol is largely humming along as usual.
Nothing -- not the swelling of the deficit to $26.3 billion or the latest slide in the state's credit rating or the start of a third monthly unpaid furlough day for state workers Friday -- has pushed legislative leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to broker an accord.
The anxiety in the Capitol has not reached the level it did last time the state found itself doling out IOUs, in 1992, when fears of firehouses shutting down, parks closing and the state falling into receivership gripped the public. Since then, the state has hopped from one fiscal calamity to the next.
The latest disaster has provoked far less alarm. Some say that gives lawmakers incentive to do what a discouraged electorate expects: dawdle, even as California collapses.
"The public is not helping at the moment," said Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State.
In June, more than half of the 120 state lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats alike, held fundraisers at wineries, golf resorts and Capitol-area watering holes.
Events included an excursion to see "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," organized by Republican Assemblyman Jeff Miller of Corona. He asked deep-pocketed supporters to become "Optimus Prime Max Out" donors with a contribution of $3,900, the legal limit.
Assembly Republican leader Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo, who took part in a mid-June fundraising jaunt to a San Francisco Giants game with Senate GOP leader Dennis Hollingsworth of Murrieta, said lawmakers needed money to communicate with voters. And financial crises have become so routine, Blakeslee said, that it is unreasonable to expect all other business to stop with each one.
"Tell me when we didn't have a budget crisis in California," he said.
The scant budget negotiations that are taking place involve a small group of top lawmakers and the governor meeting behind closed doors. The so-called "Big 5" -- the governor and the two leaders from each house of the Legislature -- have met together just twice since July 2 when IOUs began going out.
One meeting was Friday; legislative leaders called it productive but said they had a long way to go.
Rank-and-file lawmakers, meanwhile, have largely continued their work in the Legislature's bill factory.
They might as well, because the governor and leading lawmakers are the only people at the negotiating table right now, said Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), author of one of the e-mail solicitations for campaign contributions.
The other e-mailer, Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), who is running against Buchanan for a congressional seat, did not return a call seeking comment. But he issued a statement saying he's the "chair of four committees . . . working on 20 pieces of legislation. And I'm up here (at the Capitol) everyday."
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) attempted to halt all non-budget business but Republicans refused to go along. On Tuesday, legislative committees considered a trio of food measures -- the definition of honey, what qualifies as 100% pomegranate juice and creating a blueberry commission. Such matters have become fodder for Schwarzenegger and conservatives.
"We have nothing against condiments or fruits," said Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear. "But we think the Legislature ought to be focused on solving our budget crisis."
Democrats say the budget work would be completed if the governor wasn't using the crisis to ram through changes in government that they say are unrelated to the current deficit. The governor says his proposals would save the state billions of dollars this year and in future years.
Schwarzenegger has been in Sacramento for all but one day since July 1, McLear said. But the governor has also flown home to Los Angeles some evenings and was spotted on a Malibu beach on the Fourth of July.
The governor didn't help perceptions by telling the New York Times Magazine recently that whatever happens in the Capitol, "I will sit down in my Jacuzzi tonight, I'm going to lay back with a stogie."
With several deadlines in the rear-view mirror, many in the Capitol wonder what kind of pressure point will spur a final agreement. One date of no fiscal consequence has emerged, amid snickers, as a new possibility: July 17.
That's the day the Legislature's summer recess is set to begin.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times