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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 10:21 pm | Fair 45º


Tony Strickland: High Time to Revisit Unnecessary Boards and Commissions

Cash-strapped California has no business paying part-time workers full-time salaries

A recent Field Poll found that a lowly 18 percent of voters approve of the Legislature’s job performance and 72 percent disapprove. This is actually a slight improvement from the woeful 15 percent approval rating legislators attained in September 2008 — the lowest mark the Field Poll ever recorded for any elected official or organization. Even still, a higher percentage of Californians had a favorable view of the job President Richard Nixon was doing at the height of the Watergate scandal than approve of legislators today.

State Sen. Tony Strickland
State Sen. Tony Strickland

Not helping matters is the persistence of rampant patronage in state government, where political friends of legislators are given cushy positions on one of the many boards and commissions overseeing some function of state government. When I say cushy, I mean six-figure salaries on boards that meet once or twice a month. Nice work if you can get it.

If you’re a member of the general public, though, you probably can’t. These coveted positions often provide a so-called “soft landing” to termed-out legislators, or a reward for favored staff members, spouses or other politically connected insiders. Arguably the most notorious example is the California Integrated Waste Management Board, a six-member panel that oversees and tracks most of the state’s waste and implements policies to recycle and divert as much waste as possible from our landfills.

When I served in the Assembly, I authored legislation to suspend the lucrative salaries of board members and commissioners when the state is facing record budget deficits. Unfortunately, my efforts were shut down. Certainly some of these entities perform important functions in support of worthy goals, but there’s no compelling reason — particularly in this economy — to pay anyone a generous full-time salary for part-time work.

That’s why I’ve once again authored legislation to prohibit people on boards and commissions from receiving a salary of more than $100,000 a year for a position that meets twice a month or less. If passed, SB 685 (State Boards and Commissions: Salaries: Suspension) would do just that.

If you put it in the real world perspective, these board members and commissioners make more than two and a half times what teachers do. They make more than firefighters and police officers who show up every day to work. With California’s unemployment rate topping 10 percent in January and with the state facing record budget deficits, we should be looking in areas to save money outside of education, public safety and health care. It’s irresponsible for our government to be handing out massive paychecks to board members and commissioners while teachers are being laid off and government employees are being furloughed.

At a minimum, we should be examining the responsibilities of such board members and commissioners to determine whose compensation should be downsized to a more modest and appropriate level. For instance, members of the state Coastal Commission, the California State University Board of Trustees, the California Transportation Commission and many other important state bodies earn only $100 per diem for attending meetings.

The budget deal just signed makes substantial cuts to education and social services and contains billions of dollars in tax increases. It’s not realistic to tell the public that state spending has already been cut to the bone, necessitating these difficult choices, when these lucrative state jobs remain in place for an elite few.

Realistically, I understand the reluctance to cut off the hand you hope will be feeding you someday, but Sacramento needs to get its priorities in order. California is in a financial crisis. When we’re debating what should be cut out of state government, these political plums are the low-hanging fruit that should get the first whack.

State Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, represents Santa Barbara County’s South Coast in the 19th Senate District.

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