Huge state overhaul proposed

Huge state overhaul proposed

Jim Wasserman THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SACRAMENTO — A plan to reorganize state government that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will receive next week will propose eliminating 12,000 state jobs and hundreds of state boards and commissions while possibly saving $32 billion over the next five years.

Details in the 2,500-page report obtained Friday also include contracting out government work to private contractors and requiring college and university students to perform community service.

Months in the making, the sweeping report by the California Performance Review Board is already being called a power grab by critics and would mark the biggest reorganization of government since the 1960s. If approved by the Legislature, it would change everything from how soon children can enter kindergarten to greatly increasing the amount Californians could win in pooled lotteries with other states.

“California’s spirit is alive and well, but in one vital area the state is ailing,” the report states. “Once the envy of the nation, today our state government fails the people of California, and it fails the men and women who have given their careers to its service.”

Officials involved in the reorganization effort declined to comment Friday, and a Schwarzenegger aide said the governor hasn’t received a copy of the report yet, and didn’t expect to see it until it was released Tuesday.

“The governor is prepared to make government efficient for the taxpayer and will be undeterred by forces who would be opposed to that,” Schwarzenegger spokesman Rob Stutzman said Friday.

Bill Leonard, a member of the Board of Equalization and a former legislator who was briefed on it last month, said the report is “looking for less boards and commissions and a flatter organization chart, where the lines of responsibility would be clearer.”

The report’s reform proposals suggest a massive consolidation of state operations by combining 11 agencies and 79 departments into 11 major departments. It also calls for technological leaps inside the state bureaucracy, noting that Schwarzenegger was unable to e-mail state employees collectively to ask their help in the reorganization study.

State finances would be controlled by a federal-style Office of Management and Budget, while a Public Safety and Homeland Security Department would oversee law enforcement authorities now spread among 30 state entities, from fish and game investigations to the California Highway Patrol. The plan proposes creating a massive new California Department of Infrastructure to oversee water, energy, growth, housing and transportation issues in a state of 36 million people expected to reach 50 million by 2040.

Finally, it would create new super-departments to oversee the environment, commerce and consumer protection. Another would oversee health and welfare programs, now one of the state’s biggest costs at $24.6 billion a year.

The consolidations would eliminate scores of boards and commissions in the executive branch, including the California Transportation Commission, California Energy Commission and a statewide network of regional water quality control boards.

The report compiled in secret by 275 state employees, administration officials and consultants, has been delayed until Schwarzenegger won legislative approval for a $105 billion budget he expects to sign today.

Schwarzenegger’s California review resembles a National Performance Review started a decade ago by former President Clinton, who credited his panel with saving taxpayers billions of dollars by streamlining the federal bureaucracy and reinventing government operations.

In January, the governor promised to “blow up” the various boxes of state government, and he has also pitched a variety of government reform ideas, such as replacing the state’s full-time Legislature with part-time lawmakers.

“The overall tone and tenor of the performance review is to put more power under the executive branch,” said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.

The report’s release Tuesday will kick off a monthslong process that includes five statewide hearings before the commission’s 21 members in August and September. Afterward, the state’s government watchdog, the Little Hoover Commission, will make recommendations to Schwarzenegger and the Legislature.

Next year, Schwarzenegger will propose a final version of his plan to the Legislature.

A summary of the plans to reorganize public education includes granting broader powers to the governor’s secretary of education. It also recommends the secretary head a new Department of Education and Workforce Preparation and “develop, implement and disseminate coherent policy” for public education through the community college level.

In turn, the state would abolish its elected state superintendent of public instruction, who oversees the state Department of Education, and its 11-member governor-appointed Board of Education which sets such state education policy as academic standards.

The report also suggests changing the state constitution to abolish 58 county school superintendents and boards of education.

All of this is easy posturing, critics said Friday.

“It’s very facile and easily glib to say ‘Combine ’em all and save something on personnel,’ ” said former assemblywoman and now Board of Equalization Chair Carole Migden.

Doug Heller, a consumer advocate with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said he doesn’t oppose making government more efficient, but criticized the secrecy behind the report.

“The governor promised that he would make California government more transparent and more accessible to the public. Now he has called for the biggest reorganization and dissolution of government in California history, developed behind closed doors,” Heller said.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2004

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