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California budget committee targets governor's offices for cuts

Senate committee proposes axing Secretary of Education office, saying it overlaps with Department of Education. The Office of Planning and Research also may be scrapped, a move Schwarzenegger backs.

June 04, 2009|Evan Halper and Shane Goldmacher

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asked lawmakers to blow up the boxes of government, and on Wednesday they obliged -- though not exactly as he envisioned.

A legislative budget committee delayed action on many of Schwarzenegger's proposals for cutting waste, and instead took an ax to operations managed by the governor. They voted to get rid of entire departments and agencies under his authority.

The committee voted to eliminate the Secretary of Education office, an appointed position that exists to help the governor on school issues. Lawmakers declared that the governor does not need such an office, as it overlaps with the California Department of Education, which is run independently by the elected state superintendent of public instruction.

"When we are talking about cutting real services to real people . . . this is one of those entities that does not provide a direct service," said Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee Chairwoman Denise Moreno Ducheny (D-San Diego). "Now is the time to acknowledge we don't need to spend the money on it."

GOP committee members agreed, and the recommendation will now go before the full Senate and Assembly.

The office has fewer than 20 employees and costs the state $2.2 million per year. The much larger Department of Education, which costs $200 million annually, oversees the billions of dollars that pay for kindergarten through 12th-grade education, the state testing program and many other important aspects of public schools.

The governor would accept losing his education secretary "if the Legislature will support moving the Department of Education into the executive branch," said his press secretary Aaron McLear. Otherwise, "with 40% of the budget tied up in education, it would be unreasonable for the governor not to have an office whose role is to shape education policy."

The committee also voted to wipe out the governor's Office of Planning and Research, a $50-million-a year operation. According to its website, the office "plays a critical role in the Schwarzenegger administration, providing legislative and policy research support for the governor's office." It has also long been a place where workers on gubernatorial campaigns find state jobs if their candidate wins.

The planning and research office was not among the governor's targets. But a few hours before the committee's vote, Schwarzenegger was asked about the proposal at a news conference -- and suddenly embraced it, calling the office "a total waste."

"The Office of Planning and Research ought to be about planning and research to come up with great policy answers, which this office doesn't do," he said.

The budget committee also looked at a waste board stocked with former lawmakers earning six-figure salaries, something the governor had demanded in his speech to a joint legislative session Tuesday. But instead of eliminating it as Schwarzenegger requested, Democrats proposed to make it more powerful while also trimming the salaries.

They moved to enhance the Integrated Waste Management Board's authority by giving it control over substantial environmental operations now handled by the administration. But the proposal, which proponents said could save the state up to $3 million, stalled when GOP committee members asked that it be studied further.

McLear said the administration "is thrilled the committee is joining the governor in looking at ways to make the government run more efficiently and cost effectively. . . . We look forward to having a debate with the Legislature in the coming days over how to make government run more efficiently."

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evan.halper@latimes.com

shane.goldmacher@latimes.com

Times staff writers Howard Blume and Michael Rothfeld contributed to this report.

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