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Consumer affairs: A third of state boards, including those for barbers and horse racing, would be cut. Some worry about unregulated businesses.

Los Angeles Times

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s commission argues that 118 out of 339 state boards — which keep horse racing honest, push for high-speed rail and oversee the state’s hairdressers and barbers — cost taxpayers millions each year while creating a dizzying maze of bureaucracy.

“When state goals are pursued through unelected boards and commissions, government is less accountable than if the tasks had been performed directly,” the panel’s report said. “When something goes wrong with a board or commission, the electorate feels powerless.”

But consumer advocates and some who serve on boards questioned the plan, saying it could allow industries to go unregulated and slow down major initiatives that are important to the state’s future.

“I think it would just delay the entire project,” said Fran Florez, vice chairwoman of the California High Speed Rail Authority, of the proposal to eliminate the authority and move its responsibilities to a new California Department of Infrastructure.

“I would sort of presume some of the boards are pretty esoteric … but I think we’ve got a pretty good case that we should not be disbanded,” said John Harris, chairman of the Horse Racing Board, which the commission wants to disband. “One of the important parts of racing is the integrity … that the races are fair.”

Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights, said he was “all for getting rid of highly paid commissioners.”

Many commissioner receive a modest per diem, usually $100 for each day they attend a meeting.

But others earn salaries of as much as $100,000 a year.

But doing away with many of the boards themselves would be “throwing the baby out with the bathwater … a radical destruction of an important check and balance on big industries,” Court said.

Court was also outraged by a proposal to combine the departments of Consumer Affairs and Commerce into one agency, saying it would undercut consumers’ rights.

To make California government work better, Schwarzenegger’s commission also envisioned streamlining the bureaucracy and reinventing its culture to make it more customer-friendly.

“California’s government … presents a dizzying array of forms, telephone numbers and websites, but makes little effort to array information in a user-friendly way,” the report said. “At times, the priorities of the bureaucracy seem to come before the needs of those it is meant to serve… Despite paying for government, Californians are not always treated as its customers.”

Proposals include allowing residents to renew their vehicle registration every two years instead of annually, consolidating court-ordered fines, creating a single statewide toll-free service number and allowing more state business, such as DMV renewals, to be conducted over the Internet.

The plan would also create a “Plain Language Advocate” who will help everyone communicate.

Court conceded that some of those ideas have merit, but said he found others frightening.

“The whole goal seems to be to cut government by a third, but make it look like it’s bigger,” he said. “That’s good marketing, but in the end it takes people to protect the public.”

Los Angeles lawyer Angela Reddock said she was dismayed to hear of plans to eliminate the board of barbering and cosmetology, which she has served on since October.

“This is an industry that has a number of issues,” she said. “It’s almost like a slap in the face of the industry to say we don’t care enough about you to give you a board that oversees your functions.”

Consumer Watchdog
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