State boards are a starting point for the budget ax

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

As the philosopher Lao-Tzu put it, “The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” Or, if you prefer folk wisdom, “Great oaks from little acorns grow.”

Either way, the message is the same: You gotta start somewhere.

Which brings us to the state Legislature and the efforts to close a gaping hole in next year’s budget that’s currently estimated at $24 billion and counting.

To get an idea of what a chunk of change that is, the general fund budget for this year is a TOTAL of $103 billion, so the state is looking at slashing about 25 percent of its spending for the budget year that starts July 1 (that’s just five weeks away, folks).

There are going to be plenty of fights over what can and can’t be cut, but there’s one easy place to start: the various boards and commissions that Governor Schwarzenegger already has suggested for the budget ax.

In a perfect world where politics didn’t intrude into governing, those cuts would have been made years ago by a unanimous vote of the Legislature. After all, does California really need a Bureau of Naturopathic Medicine or a Telephone Medical Advice Services Bureau, both slated for elimination?

Problem is, we’re not in this apolitical Utopia and every single board, commission and panel in the state has its own pack of advocates who will fight to the death to hang on to their little piece of California’s regulatory machinery.

But this is a crisis, folks, and it’s hard to argue that folding the Department of Boats and Waterways into the Department of Parks and Recreation or combining the Board of Geologists and Geophysicists with the State Mining and Geology Board is going to be the end of the world as we know it.

With the state facing financial meltdown, how can any legislator seriously suggest that the Inspection and Maintenance Review Committee shouldn’t be dumped and its functions taken over by the Bureau of Automotive Repair? Or that the Hearing Aid Dispensers Board can’t become part of the Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Bureau?

It’s a lot easier to argue that the governor doesn’t go far enough and that there are plenty of other regulatory boards the state could do without. The Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, anyone?

But the Legislature hasn’t given any indication that it’s willing to make even the easy calls, which bodes ill for the tough ones that are looming.

Just last month, for example, committees in the Assembly and state Senate voted down bills that would have eliminated the state’s Integrated Waste Management Board, which has been a popular landing spot for out-of-work politicians looking for a $132,000-a-year salary to tide them over until their next race.

That April vote was on straight party lines and probably had as much to do with political coup counting on both sides as any discussion of the virtues of the waste board.

But that’s the point. The budget debacle is way past the point of political game-playing. Republicans and Democrats are going to have to hunker down, hold their noses and make decisions they hate. Like it or not, that’s part of their job and no one was drafted into the Assembly or state Senate.

It’s also true that the governor’s plan to trim state boards and committees will only save the state about $50 million a year, but there’s that whole oaks and acorn thing, remember?

John Wildermuth is a long-time writer on California politics.

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