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Schwarzenegger Vows to 'Make Every Use' of Overhaul Plan

August 04, 2004|Peter Nicholas | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pledged Tuesday to "make every use" of a meticulous proposal to overhaul California's bureaucracy, describing it as a tonic for state government and setting in motion what is expected to be an impassioned public debate about the state's direction.

In his first public comments about the report, Schwarzenegger did not single out anything he liked or disliked about the 2,504 pages of recommendations. But he predicted that "special interests" would attempt to foil the most sweeping plan to revamp California government since Ronald Reagan served in the Capitol.

"Of course there will be the special interests that will be screaming," he said. "They will be complaining. They will be squawking about the recommendations, calling them unfair and impractical or maybe even worse. But this is because their agenda is not the people's agenda.

"The people know that California needs many, many reforms: prison reform, energy reform, government reform, education reform," the Republican governor continued. "We are going to meet all those challenges and much more."

Schwarzenegger was handed a copy of the phone book-sized yellow volumes at a ceremony in a vast state property warehouse, against a backdrop of aging computer monitors and dusty surplus desks that are being offered for sale to the public. The governor promptly turned the report over to officials who will take it on the road for public comment.

Though the overhaul is meant to streamline government, it has already spawned one new commission: In June, Schwarzenegger created a panel of 21 state legislators, public officials, academics and political supporters who will hold five hearings around the state and summarize the responses in a second report to the governor.

The plan officially unveiled Tuesday is the work of the 275-member California Performance Review team set up by the governor early in the year. Members included state employees borrowed from various departments, outside consultants and top aides to the governor.

At Schwarzenegger's behest, the task force carried out a top-to-bottom review of state government largely in secret, working out of two floors in a leased office building a few blocks from the Capitol. The entire effort cost about $9 million -- most of that reflecting the salaries of the state workers.

The report is so broad and ambitious in scope that it is likely to frame the debate in the Capitol for months to come and trigger discussion about questions fundamental to California: How much power should rest with the governor? How should the environment and industry be regulated? What should be done to invigorate public education?

Recommendations number more than 1,000. The review team calls for state government to be shrunk by 12,000 workers. It suggests doing away with 118 state boards and commissions and, in most cases, shifting their duties to the executive branch. It hopes to make government more accountable by centralizing decision-making in the governor's office.

Total savings would reach nearly $32 billion over the next five years, according to the report, although some Democratic lawmakers already have raised doubts about the figure.

"We will make every use of the California Performance Review to create an efficient, responsible and responsive government -- a 21st century government for the future of California," the governor said. "We cannot just chip away at the edges of our state's problems. Sometimes a surgeon has to cut in order to save the patient."

Schwarzenegger said he would also distribute the report to his Cabinet for advice. The governor has a number of choices. He can:

* Try to adopt parts of the plan through legislation.

* Package sections as initiatives that would go to the ballot.

* Enact some elements by executive fiat.

"It's got a lot of good thoughts in it," said Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman (R-Irvine) "I hope the majority of those could be carried forward. And if they're not, I think the governor would fulfill his promise to take it to the ballot."

Within hours of the report's release, Democratic state officials began to question some recommendations and maintained that the report's credibility was tainted because so little was known about how the review team operated. Members were asked to sign confidentiality agreements that forbade them to talk publicly about their work.

State Treasurer Phil Angelides said the Schwarzenegger administration needs to release records showing how the report was prepared. Major corporations -- including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and EDS -- met privately with the review team as the study was underway, while various public interest groups said they were excluded.

"If the governor is sincere about the effort, he needs to get off on the right foot so there's no taint in this process," Angelides said in an interview. "He needs to keep the commitment he made last year: to do everything in the open. No decisions in the dark.

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