Plan gets rid of state agencies

SACRAMENTO — A legislative budget committee voted unanimously Wednesday to eliminate all state agencies, taking dead aim at an administrative layer of gubernatorial bureaucracy that oversees most state departments.

The 10-member panel, six Democrats and four Republicans, also voted to dump the Office of the Secretary of Education, which lawmakers said is unnecessary because there is an elected superintendent of public instruction and a state Board of Education.

All told, agency eliminations would save less than $25 million from the state's general fund budget, according to Michael Cohen, deputy legislative analyst with the nonpartisan legislative analyst's office.

Gov. Schwarzenegger recommended last month that lawmakers consolidate more than a dozen boards and commissions to save $50 million. He also began laying off 5,000 rank-and-file state workers.

The Legislature's response Wednesday appeared to be a retort directed at higher-paid administrative appointees who answer to Schwarzenegger and oversee on-the-ground departments that provide direct state services.

"Government should be a pyramid, but it seems to have become more of a rectangle structure," said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield, D-Woodland Hills. "And a lot of times in this kind of budget, we always end up cutting people at the bottom. And this is saying, no, we need to cut people at the top and get rid of some of the agencies and make it more of a pyramid structure."

California is facing a $24.3 billion budget deficit nearly 1,000 times as large as the potential savings from eliminating the offices, but lawmakers saw Wednesday's vote as a needed move as the state looks to cut billions from safety-net programs.

'This is just a start'

"When dealing with the level of potential cuts to people we're dealing with, we have to look at the bureaucracy, and this is just a start," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

Under the agency plan, the state would dismantle these eight offices and reassign only necessary positions: Health and Human Services; Labor and Workforce Development; Resources; Environmental Protection; Business, Transportation and Housing; State and Consumer Services; Planning and Research; Secretary of Education. The committee's action anticipates that the Cabinet-level secretaries themselves would remain, but work out of the governor's office.

The committee asked the legislative analyst's office to report by next week on how far the Legislature could cut. According to the governor's January budget, the eight offices cost the state $112 million, which includes bond funds and special funds not directly associated with the state budget.

Cohen said that of the $112 million, only about $25 million comes from the general fund.

"Our office has suggested in the past that these agencies be eliminated," Cohen said. "They've always had a lot of duplication of effort."

Deputy Finance Director Ana Matosantos said Schwarzenegger will work with lawmakers, "but some of these we don't think are the way to go."

Schwarzenegger told lawmakers Tuesday they should eliminate the Integrated Waste Management Board before making other cuts. The board would save the state no general fund dollars, but it has become an easy target because it contains retired legislators who earn six-figure salaries.

The budget conference committee Tuesday instead recommended that the state eliminate the Department of Conservation and the Department of Toxics Control while moving their functions to a part-time Integrated Waste Management Board.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, a committee member, thought the Legislature should do the reverse. "My thought would be to fold the Integrated Waste Management Board into the Department of Conservation."

Differences of opinion

The panel referred the Waste Management Board actions to other policy committees to review. It asked other committees to consider restructuring the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and make more than 10 full-time boards part time.

The committee committed to cutting $50 million through board consolidations, but said other panels would have to analyze proposals made by Schwarzenegger and the legislative analyst's office.

"Every year, the governor tries to eliminate and consolidate a number of boards, commissions and departments, and every year the Legislature rejects that," said Schwarzenegger press secretary Aaron McLear. "We're thrilled the Legislature is joining the governor's call to make government more efficient and cost effective."