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CAPITOL NOTEBOOK: BUDGET WONKS TAKE TO THE BACK ROOMS.

Byline: Terri Hardy and Dorothy Korber

AFTER the very public pomp and ceremony of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo's visit, the energy in the Capitol last week shifted dramatically to the interior - to the hallway arguments, closed-door meetings and marathon committee hearings that drive our state's budget process.

The only thing missing from the infamous smoke-filled rooms was the smoke, now that cigarettes are banned indoors.

At issue were the appropriately named ``suspense'' calendars for the Assembly and Senate, where big-ticket items are held, waiting for the legislative leadership to determine what will be funded and what won't.

In the tradition of great bureaucracies, lawmakers have created a nearly incomprehensible budget process. Almost no one seems sure of how the process works exactly, from neophyte lawmakers to veteran lobbyists.

The Assembly budgeteers have created their own time-saving lexicon: On the A roll call are sure-thing bills, where everyone on the Appropriations Committee votes yes.

On the B roll call, everyone but the Republicans votes yes.

On the C roll call . . . well, the bill is dead, since all Democrats vote no and they are the majority. Some audience members were mystified.

``What is this all about?'' one elderly man whispered to the people around him.

The chairwoman, Assembly member Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, earned her nickname of ``The General,'' barking at her staff, chiding those giving testimony and simply cutting them off midsentence when she'd heard enough.

The Budget, Episode II

Now that both the Assembly and the Senate have passed their versions of the budget, the wheeling and dealing really begins.

Three legislators from each house sit down and hammer out a compromise spending plan. Conspicuously absent from this crucial conference committee is anyone from Los Angeles.

``I would have liked to have some representation from our area on that conference committee,'' says Sen. Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles. ``Los Angeles County, being as big as it is, deserves a voice. We'll be watching the process very carefully - and if Los Angeles County isn't adequately taken care of, there's action we can take.''

The co-chairmen of the committee, both from San Diego County, laughed at the suggestion that Los Angeles might be ignored - especially since Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa is an Angeleno.

``Los Angeles County is at the table - it's never not at the table,'' said Assemblywoman Denise Ducheny, D-National City, who is a co-chairwoman. ``Anyway, I was born there.''

``And I'm a movie producer,'' laughed the other co-chairman, Sen. Steve Peace, a Democrat from El Cajon.

Indeed he is. But L.A. better hope his film doesn't reflect his attitude toward the Big Orange. Peace produced ``Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.''

Pomp and Tinky

Singapore's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong paid a stately visit to the Assembly on Thursday, delivering a dignified speech and then moving slowly down the aisle, greeting legislators who smiled politely and bowed slightly.

He may have been puzzled by one desk, where a stuffed three-foot Teletubby - the purple one named Tinky Winky - waved jauntily. Its owner, gruff Assemblyman Dick Floyd, D-Carson, didn't look up from his newspaper as the prime minister and his entourage sailed past.

Afterward, Floyd explained that he brought the doll as a prop for his speech in favor of a bill on domestic partners. Tinky Winky is supposedly gay, according to televangelist the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

As for ignoring Prime Minister Goh, ``Singapore's a place where they throw you in jail for chewing gum,'' Floyd explained. ``I don't care what they do in their countries. But this is my country, this is my hall, and I bow to no foreign influences.''
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Title Annotation:VIEWPOINT
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 30, 1999
Words:599
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