Governor finds trouble at home…;

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OVERHAUL PLAN: He drops proposal to abolish 88 boards

The San Francisco Chronicle

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday he was backing off a controversial proposal to abolish 88 state boards and commissions that oversee everything from licensing doctors to running recycling programs.

It seemed nearly everyone in Sacramento found something to hate in the proposal, from Democratic and Republican lawmakers to interest groups that rarely agree on anything.

The plan was Schwarzenegger’s most ambitious attempt to fulfill a pledge to “blow up boxes” and streamline state government — a goal that has largely eluded him so far.

Schwarzenegger also has generally ignored a review he commissioned last year that made more than 1,200 recommendations to restructure government. Schwarzenegger touted the California Performance Review as a way to save taxpayers’ money and make the state more responsive to citizens, but he has yet to advance most of the ideas.

Speaking in Washington on Thursday, the governor said he plans to revise and “perfect” his proposal to kill dozens of boards and commissions before bringing it up again. And administration officials said they have implemented some ideas to shake up bureaucracy.

But others said the governor’s pledge to conduct a massive remake of government — made during his first state of the state speech last year — was naive.

“He had this rather childish concept of marching into Sacramento and tearing down everything,” said Richard Holober, executive director of the Consumer Federation of California. “What he found was that there are plenty of reasons why things operate the way they do.”

Holober and virtually everyone in California agree there are plenty of inefficiencies in state government.

But Schwarzenegger’s performance review has been attacked as an overly partisan power grab. And a study of the review’s conclusions done by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that the ideas would save far less money than the report claimed.

A six-month effort that included 260 people scrutinizing all areas of government, the performance review was released last summer and made recommendations ranging from eliminating county school superintendents to changing the age at which children should begin kindergarten.

It also recommended shutting down more than 100 boards and commissions, and from that list Schwarzenegger crafted his proposal to kill off 88 and shift most of their duties into state departments.

That proposal was sent in January to the Little Hoover Commission, a state agency which conducted public hearings and was set to give its opinion on the plan next week. The proposal appeared to have little support in the Legislature, and on Thursday the governor sent the Little Hoover Commission a letter withdrawing the proposal.

Critics complained that Schwarzenegger was proposing the abolishment of many regulatory boards that have existed for decades to protect consumers. Some argued that the boards, many of which include members of the public and political appointees from the governor and Legislature, did a good job of representing multiple interests when they set rules for things like nursing practices or building standards.

They also noted that the idea seemed to contradict one Schwarzenegger mantra — a more open government — that the governor espoused while running for office.

By abolishing boards, which typically make decisions during public meetings, critics worried that rule-making would be done behind closed doors by bureaucrats.

Schwarzenegger also faced criticism over which boards he proposed to abolish and which he suggested keeping. He was accused of doling out favors to political supporters.

He called for ending the Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation, for example, which had angered pharmaceutical interests last year when it called for lowering prescription drugs costs in the state’s workers’ compensation system.

The pharmaceutical industry has contributed more than $1.6 million to Schwarzenegger and his campaigns, according to an analysis of campaign contributions by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Even some of Schwarzenegger’s supporters voiced concerns about the boards proposal.

The California Healthcare Association, which represents hospitals and has backed several of the governor’s decisions on health issues and health-related legislation, opposed killing the Board of Registered Nurses.

And state Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, a dentist, said he was concerned about ending several boards that regulate the medical industry.

“I thought the decision to eliminate a number of medical boards and commissions went a bit too far,” said Aanestad, who is typically aligned with the governor.

Schwarzenegger is pushing an ambitious reform agenda this year on several other fronts and may have concluded that he needs to focus on more broad-based reforms before tackling the government overhaul, said Bill Hauck, president of the California Business Roundtable and co-chairman of a commission that studied the performance review’s proposals.

Schwarzenegger officials insist they are moving forward with some government restructuring.

Ashley Snee, spokeswoman for the governor, noted that Schwarzenegger has proposed a reorganization of the state’s prison system, for example, and has hired a private firm to buy products for state agencies, which is supposed to save $96 million this year by making bulk purchases. The purchasing program, however, has only saved about $1 million so far.
E-mail the writers at [email protected] and [email protected]

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