Gov. Jerry Brown wants to eliminate dozens of state panels and commissions, a good idea and long overdue. But the governor needs to be more inclusive, and stalk bigger game.
His list includes the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board, a typical soft landing spot for ex-legislators. They meet about once a month but get paid $128,109 a year, more than they were paid as legislators, as the Sacramento Bee recently noted. Such ruling-class parasitism doesn’t help balance the budget.
The governor also wants to eliminate the California Commission on the Status of Women, which began on the watch of his father, Gov. “Pat” Brown. It now functions as the Women’s Auxiliary of Big Government, a straight-up spending lobby. Far more damage, unfortunately, flows from an agency that began on Jerry Brown’s first watch.
The California Coastal Commission is an unelected 12-member body that dates from Proposition 20, the Coastal Zone Conservation Act, a 1972 ballot initiative. The Commission was supposed to be temporary but the legislature welded it in place with the California Coastal Act of 1976. The Commission now overrides scores of duly elected governments on planning, access, and development along California’s 1,100-mile coastline. With such enormous power comes corruption and cronyism.
Those who contribute heavily to key politicians hold the inside track when it comes to approvals. Commissioner Mark Nathanson even tried shaking down celebrities for big-time money, but some stars didn’t play along. In 1992 Nathanson was convicted of racketeering and wound up serving five years in prison. To such Mafia-style corruption the Commission adds regulatory zealotry, a complete disregard for the property rights of Californians and the due process of elected coastal governments.
The Commission functions best as a reward for political loyalists and orthodox alarmists. Recent appointees include wealthy Hollywood producer Dayna Bochco, a high-profile promoter of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32). The Commission also works as an elitist neighborhood watch, keeping working-class Californians from living near the ocean. Despite its pretensions, the Commission also has negative environmental consequences.
The CCC effectively blocks development in cooler coastal areas, which forces residents into hotter inland regions. There air conditioning gets heavy use in cars and houses alike, driving up energy demands. So the CCC effectively cancels one of California’s key natural advantages. Despite such problems some advisory agencies are worried that the CCC doesn’t have enough power.
In a recent analysis, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office recommends that the Commission gain the authority to bypass the courts and levy fines directly. As it happens, the courts have been one of the few checks on Commission power. The people of California remain essentially helpless in the face of this ruling-class star chamber, which should be at the top of the governor’s hit list.
Eliminating the CCC would require a spine transplant on the part of politicians, but it would show that the state is serious about reform. Ending the Commission would trim government, cut waste, reduce corruption and even improve the environment. Better still, it would promote democracy. Supreme executive power, as Michael Palin (no relation to Sarah) has noted, derives from a mandate from the masses, not some farcical appointment process.
K. Lloyd Billingsley is editorial director at the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, www.pacificresearch.org.