Even as Gov Brown does an admirable job of restraining the overall growth in state employment, the regulatory bureaucracy balloons.
Boosted by strong constituencies in the Legislature, and insulated by their reliance largely on industry fees, fines and penalties, regulatory agencies have seen their staffs grow by fourteen percent over the past four years – in the teeth of the worst recession in modern times.
By comparison, since 2008 employment in California public colleges and universities has declined by nine percent, and the rest of state government has barely stayed even.
To be sure, much of the restraint in the rest of government has to do with realignment – moving large functions of public safety and social services from state to county responsibility. But this trend is testament the double-standard in state finance – grow if you’ve got the dough. And regulators in environmental, consumer protection, labor and insurance are swimming in special funds.
This double standard is insidious. The Legislature and Administration focus on how to squeeze General Fund agencies like universities and courts, while giving little or no thought to how regulators could operate more efficiently or effectively. Even as employers suffer under a tight economy, regulators flush with fees have no incentive to improve or balance their mandates.
One of the most promising but undervalued budget reform that could be accomplished by the Legislature on its own motion: tougher oversight of regulatory agencies that don’t suffer from the budget crisis in the General Fund.