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Budget crunch means long days for legislators, staffers

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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Behind the scenes, legislators and their staff are working long days as the state’s budget impasse continues. For Sen. Sam Aanestad and four of his team, Saturday ended up being an all-nighter. “We slept on the floor,” communications director Bill Bird said Monday. “We didn’t have any blankets. We used coats for pillows. We did what we had to do to survive.” At Ted Gaines’ office, the assemblyman and his crew worked all day Saturday until nearly 4 a.m. Sunday at the Capitol. They returned around noon Sunday, staying until about 9:30 p.m. On Presidents Day, Monday, it was back to work, chief of staff Steve Davey said. “Ted had a speaking engagement in El Dorado County and we were going to do an editorial meeting at the Mountain Democrat (in Placerville),” Davey said. “All that was canceled because we’ve been here.” Things really intensified Friday, he said. “As soon as a deal gets set, staff has to scramble to analyze the bills and prepare an analysis, and prepare press clippings and stuff,” he said. “Today we’re putting out a summary of what happened.” Then there are the phone calls. “Lots of people are calling Ted to find out what’s going to be done,” Davey said. “We try to keep everyone informed as it happens.” At Aanestad’s office, the hectic pace includes rumor control. “Constituents are calling up and asking not to cut (this or that) because of rumors coming out,” Bird said. But those extra hours don’t mean extra pay. “As legislative employees, we work for the state Assembly,” Davey said. “We’re on salary. We get paid what we get paid. The monthly paycheck is the same if I put in a typical workweek or whatever. It’s all part of the job.” Davey, who got his first job in politics in 1996, is used to spending occasional late nights at work, particularly at the end of the legislative session. But this has been unprecedented, he said. “There hasn’t been a break,” he said. Bird joined Aanestad’s staff in 2004 and has worked in the Legislature for 10 years. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said. “This is unique. We’re breaking new ground here.” On Monday, Gaines attended a morning leadership meeting and subsequent floor session. “The speaker reconvened the Assembly and then basically put us on recess,” Davey said Monday afternoon. “We have to be ready so that in the event the Senate comes up with a plan and passes it, we’ll be on the floor to vote.” Through it all, Gaines, R-Roseville, is not budging in his refusal to vote for tax increases. “When you take a look at how it affects an average family of four making $50,000 a year, it’s an impact of about $1,000 a year,” he said about the proposed increases. “Here in the middle of a recession, are we going to tax our families? …That’s why I’m opposed to it.” Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, also is standing firm against tax hikes. “They’ve resumed session, but there’s no deal,” Bird said. “There’s no vote for this budget that raises $14.5 billion in taxes. Right now the votes aren’t there in the Senate to pass this tax bill, which would be the largest tax hike in California history.” The office of state Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, did not return a call for comment. The Journal’s Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com or comment at Auburnjournal.com