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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

Cutting State Government Down To Size
Rocking the status quo…

[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 8/25/04

The report of the California Performance Review was recently released and is already drawing fire. But it's difficult for critics to argue with the report's central premise – that California government is too big.

There are no fewer than 120 separate departments in California government. The performance review would consolidate 11 agencies and 79 departments into 11 departments.

The state also has hundreds of commissions and boards. These include the Structural Pest Control Board, Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Board, the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs, the Summer School for the Arts Board of Trustees and the Bureau of Naturopathic Medicine Advisory Committee. And many others.

The performance review proposes eliminating 118 of 339 boards and commissions, along with 1,153 appointed positions. Some of these pay $100,000 a year for minimal work, an obvious form of patronage for former legislators and staffers. It costs California taxpayers more than $9 million a year just for the 17 boards and commissions with the highest-paid members.

The candidates for elimination include the Air Resources Board, but unfortunately not the California Coastal Commission, which combines corruption with Draconian regulation. Every county on the coast has a government capable of handling its affairs without the red tape of a redundant commission dating from the early 1970s.

The performance review report, titled "Prescription for Change: A Government for the People for a Change," proposes to phase out some 12,000 state jobs. It recommends areas for privatization, currently forbidden under some state laws, including local child-support services. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also has a plan to contract out health care for prisoners to private health care providers.

It should be noted that the report was written not by private consultants but 275 state workers. Co-director of the project was Chon Gutierrez, chief of California's Department of Motor Vehicles, hardly an agency that inspires confidence.

The review's commissioners included J.J. Jelincic, president of the California State Employees Association. Groups that submitted ideas included unions, academics, state agencies, and businesses such as Microsoft, Pfizer, General Electric, and Chevron.

The report also takes aim at the state's biggest expenditure – education. This is a system rife with corruption and waste. Before they reach actual students in California classrooms, taxpayer dollars must trickle down through multiple levels of bureaucratic sediment.

The performance review proposes eliminating the county superintendents who rule the 58 county offices of education. These handle some tasks but are also holding tanks for high-salaried educrats with nebulous job descriptions.

The cut-off date for kindergarten would change from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, resulting in fewer entrants. More education functions would come under the control of the governor.

This alarms defenders of the status quo such as John Mockler, longtime insider and a former executive director of the state board of education. But Democrats such as Kerry Mazzoni, education secretary for Gray Davis, agree that there is currently overlap in a structure that lacks accountability. "There should be someone who is clearly accountable," she told reporters.

Other recommendations include tax reform in the form of a five-percent sales tax credit on manufacturing and telecommunications equipment, the streamlining of business permits and increasing the number of toll roads. An estimated $4 million could be saved yearly, the report says, by computerizing the written portion of driver's tests.

Personal responsibility and sensible cost-cutting, the report says, would help reform Medi-Cal, besotted with inefficiency and fraud. These and other recommendations have some merit but the report includes some dubious ideas. It proposes that California join a multistate lottery and wants public college and university students to perform community service in order to receive their diplomas.

If all the recommendations were implemented, the report claims, California could save $32 billion over the next five years. That is a substantial sum. But while the governor wants to blow up the boxes of government, the performance review will touch off explosions of a different sort.

Legislators, state employees and public employee unions like things the way they are. They are opposed to privatization, and want even more and bigger boxes. Recall the recent push for universal pre-school and a massive government health care system.

Taxpayers can have their say in series of public hearings on the 2,500-page report. While the final outcome is in doubt, it will be hard to challenge the reality that California government is bloated, wasteful and unaccountable, and that it needs to be smaller, more efficient and responsive to the people. CRO

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute




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