Targeting the Wasteful, Activists Seek End to California’s Waste Board

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has repeatedly scolded state legislators for not doing enough to resolve California’s budget deficit, which now stands at nearly $15 billion and which he said could balloon to more than $40 billion over the next two years.

Yet activists say the governor and other lawmakers continue to practice patronage politics that keeps questionable spending on the books. A prime example, they say, is the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

Last month, the Republican governor appointed former state Sen. Carole Migden to a $132,000-a-year seat on the waste-management board, an obscure panel that many critics say serves chiefly as a landing spot for out-of-work politicians. Ms. Migden, a Democrat, was trounced in her bid for re-election following a series of scandals including being fined $350,000 for state campaign-finance violations.

Mr. Schwarzenegger nearly three years ago appointed his former director of scheduling, Margo Reid Brown, to the board, which she now heads.

Leaders of the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Senate appointed two other former state legislators to the waste board last month after they were forced out of office by term limits. The governor gets to appoint the four other members of the six-person board.

"It’s become a senior-fellow program for favored legislators," said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, a public-advocacy group based in Santa Monica.

One main function of the waste board is to oversee California’s trash disposal, including approving permits to open or expand a municipal dump. But some groups say its duties could easily be folded into the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Jon Myers, a spokesman for the waste board — who said he would have to speak on behalf of Ms. Migden, Ms. Brown and the two other newest board appointees, former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl and former Assemblyman John Laird — disagreed that the job is redundant. He also said the board members themselves do a lot of work.

Lisa Page, a spokeswoman for Mr. Schwarzenegger, said the governor agrees the waste board is a waste — even though he has appointed members to allow for a quorum to conduct business. "He agrees with those who have said this board should be eliminated, and will propose this again in his January budget," Ms. Page said.

The waste board is one of dozens of boards and commissions in California that consumer advocates say should be abolished because they serve no vital purpose. There are boards for barbers, landscape architects, court reporters and auto dealers. Advocacy groups managed to get rid of one for dry cleaners, and stopped the legislature from setting up ones that would have overseen aerobics instructors and astrologers.

Most board members are paid a per diem fee that often doesn’t exceed $1,000 a year, and the boards’ budgets are relatively small. The waste board’s budget of $200 million, for example, pales next to California’s overall general-fund budget of $104.3 billion.

Critics of the boards — mainly consumer groups and many Republican lawmakers, who say they squander tax money — say the spending looks bad when lawmakers are taking the ax to budgets of schools, social programs and other services. They also say the boards add a layer of bureaucracy to doing business.

"The savings from abolishing a lot of these boards would be an easier entry to business and cheaper prices for goods and services," says Bob Fellmeth, director of the Center for Public Interest Law, a consumer-advocacy group based at the University of San Diego School of Law.

In 2004, Mr. Schwarzenegger recommended killing off 88 boards and commissions — including the waste board — after ordering a review that found most redundant with other state and local bodies or simply not needed. But he withdrew the proposal after fierce criticism from legislators and public-interest groups.

In the waste board’s case, there has been widespread agreement that it should go. According to the California Performance Review the governor ordered, one of the board’s chief functions — acting as final authority on solid-waste permits — is adequately handled through a thorough vetting by local agencies.

Some lawmakers, including several Democratic leaders, defend the board, as do groups that work to ensure public access to and oversight of government workings. The waste board’s Mr. Myers said board members play a key oversight role, meet as many as four times a month and often inspect facilities whose permits they are considering.

Mr. Myers added that the board helps set the tone for what he called California’s national leadership in recycling.

Write to Jim Carlton at [email protected]

Consumer Watchdog
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