Thanks to Gov. Blago-what’s-his-name, Illinois is once again the poster-child of corrupt state government. California has far cleaner government than Illinois, but could improve, especially in the area of political patronage, which seems to be thriving.
This issue has arisen most recently with appointments to the state’s Integrated Waste Management Board. Didn’t know that board existed, did you? Not if you are like most of us and are largely unaware of about 300 such boards and commissions having regulatory functions in California. But, heck, who’s counting? A group called Consumer Watchdog for one, and over the years it has accumulated some interesting information.
For a number of former legislators, term limits no longer mean the end of a political career, but an extended, paid furlough until they can run again and resume office. The Integrated Waste Management Board is the arch example. This six-position board was created by former Gov. George Deukmejian in 1990. From the beginning it was a place to park political friends. Termed-out Sen. Sheila Kuehl has just been appointed to replace an earlier termed-out former Democratic Sen. Wes Chesbro, who returned to the Assembly. Termed-out Assemblyman John Laird has been appointed to replace Cheryl Peace, the wife of a former state legislator.
The chair of the board is Margo Reid Brown, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s former scheduler. Each of the six board members is paid $132,178 per year, plus expenses. A legislator’s salary is $116,208. They seem to meet irregularly – a
few times a year. The game of musical chairs was never so lucrative.
Two months ago, Schwarzenegger appointed former state Sen. Carole Migden to the board. She was defeated in San Francisco in the last election over scandals that resulted in her being fined $350,000. And as a side-note: The governor appointed his children’s nanny to the Board of Guide Dogs for the Blind. See, qualifications count. Taxpayer groups will be relieved to note that this one pays only $100 per diem for every day the board meets.
In 2004, Schwarzenegger vowed to eliminate 88 of California’s specialized boards and commissions by folding them into larger departments. The results to date: The dry cleaners board was eliminated; a proposed board for astrologers
was rejected. That’s progress.
Schwarzenegger has failed to consolidate these boards, and this is all to the good. Under the present system, each board has a specified number of representatives from the profession and from the public. The governor appoints some of these and legislative leaders appoint others. Under the consolidation proposed by Schwarzenegger, these regulatory functions would be carried out only by gubernatorial appointees. When the governorship changes, big policy swings could be chaotic for the professions regulated.
Under the earlier system, still prevalent in many states, each profession nominated the members to the board regulating it. This is the very definition of self-serving. It was never in the best interests of consumers. California has come a long way from that. The only boards without a plurality of "public" members are boards for the medical professions and a few others where long training is necessary to evaluate many of the issues that arise.
Such boards have been attacked as a waste of taxpayer dollars, particularly irritating in these times of budgetary stringency. But most of these boards, including Integrated Waste Management, are paid from fees and licenses of those regulated, not the taxpayer. This is little consolation to the waste hauler who finds his fees are used to provide an executive-level salary for furloughed politicians. And this is the real rub, the place where changes should be made.
Board members, if they are doing the job they should, will invest time and effort and should be compensated accordingly. But this should in no case be an executive-level salary for a very part-time job. Nor should they be compensated for on-the-job training. Presumably they know the area before they are appointed. Cynics will say this is often not the case – and cynics are correct, as they too often are.
A good start would be a drastic reduction in the pay to members of the Integrated Waste Management Board and a review of compensation for all boards. Termed-out politicians should be able to find jobs. If not, they can apply for food stamps as so many others have today.
Bob Williams is a Millville rancher and a retired UCLA professor. His e-mail address is [email protected]