High-earning California boards long overdue for an overhaul 

Juan Vargas is right about abolishing California’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board — for all the wrong reasons.

Vargas is a Democratic state senator from San Diego but has always yearned to be a congressman and has his chance in 2012 because the 51st Congressional District’s boundaries have been redrawn and incumbent Bob Filner is stepping down.

Vargas looked like a shoo-in until the woman he succeeded in the Senate, Denise Ducheny, said she’s planning to run, too. Ducheny landed a $128,000-a-year appointment to the UI Appeals Board after leaving the Legislature.

Vargas then issued a gratuitous statement denouncing the board as a landing spot for “termed-out, drunk-driving legislators,” and said he’d introduce legislation to abolish it. He was clearly referring to Ducheny and another ex-legislator on the board, Republican Roy Ashburn.

The UI board is certainly a haven for termed-out legislators, appointed either by governors or legislative leaders. Ducheny resigned after Vargas’ blast, but four of its five remaining members are ex-lawmakers.

The UI board isn’t alone. Until it was abolished by the Legislature recently, the state’s Integrated Waste Management Board was also populated mostly by unemployed politicians. Other well-paying boards are often filled from the same species, whose numbers have multiplied like fecund fruit flies, thanks to term limits.

It’s doubtful Vargas gives a tinker’s damn about the efficacy of the UI board, or is genuinely outraged by the quality of its appointees. His screed was merely the opening salvo of a nasty battle for Congress.

However, given the state’s chronic budget problems and the rising levels of public disgust about self-serving politicians, it’s high time the power-wielding boards are re-evaluated.

Do we really need panels drawing six-figure incomes to decide on disputes over who’s owed unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation benefits?

Wouldn’t those tasks be better handled by professionals in the field, since they are really applications of law?

Oddly, some of the state’s most important and powerful boards, such as the state Transportation Commission and the new health insurance exchange, are not salaried jobs. Their members receive only token payments and expenses.

It’s past time for a complete review and overhaul of this web of patronage.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns on state politics are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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