17 state boards get axed

Government: Gregoire trims state's costs in light of $2.6 billion shortfall

December 4, 2009 

Gov. Chris Gregoire

Gov. Chris Gregoire (The Olympian File Photo)

Gov. Chris Gregoire killed 17 boards and commissions by executive order Thursday and called on state lawmakers to get rid of 78 other boards and transfer dozens of small agencies into larger ones.

Gregoire’s proposal for the 2010 legislative session came a day after she announced a similar plan to consolidate or coordinate functions of several natural-resources agencies.

The second-term Democrat said she will propose health-care reforms in January, to save money but also to make government work better for the public.

“Just like private businesses, state government must make changes to get the most value for our investments while maintaining the highest level of customer service,” Gregoire said in prepared remarks.

Several lawmakers showed support in light of a $2.6 billion budget shortfall that is giving new urgency to finding more efficiency in government. But some said they want to see more details.

No detailed cost savings or estimates of job cuts were available for Gregoire’s general-government proposals, many of which require legislative approval. Gregoire’s bid to redraw the face of state government goes well beyond abolishing a chunk of the state’s estimated 400 boards or commissions.

Her plan includes:

 • A directive that suspends expense reimbursements and travel costs for board and commission members.

 • Requests to the Legislature to shift 25 programs out of the Commerce Department into other agencies, including three housing programs moved to the Department of Social and Health Services. Commerce has a new jobs-creation mission that doesn’t fit with its patchwork of programs, director Rogers Weed said.

 • A directive that moves accounting, payroll and budgeting staff members out of agencies with fewer than 176 employees, placing them under the Office of Financial Management. That would eliminate about 30 jobs, senior budget adviser Peter Antolin said.

 • Requests to the Legislature to get rid of one-third of the state’s 64 smaller agencies, shifting their functions to other agencies – such as moving the regulatory Board of Accountancy under the Department of Licensing and putting the Department of Printing in the Department of Information Services.

 • An order for Information Services to take over e-mail and server management for agencies, which might save $2 million over the ongoing budget cycle, DIS director Tony Tortorice said.

 • Having General Administration further take over vehicle fleet management in the common motor pool, and moving some real-estate management out of the Department of Social and Health Services and into General Administration.

“Some of that makes sense,” said Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, the chairman of a committee that will look at the boards and commissions issue. “I would imagine that out of 78 boards and commissions, most of them will be acceptable” to lawmakers.

Thurston County Rep. Gary Alexander, the ranking Republican on House budget issues, said he appreciated Gregoire’s effort to look at boards and to transfer functions out of the Commerce agency.

He did not go into details about what he thought of the boards targeted for elimination, and he cautioned that the state should try to reduce costs of programs it transfers out of Commerce.

Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, said it is good to streamline Commerce but he worries about adding to DSHS, a gigantic agency that he already is proposing to break up into smaller units. He also cautioned against killing off boards and commissions that are self-funded.

Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, worked on board-elimination efforts last year and said he was not surprised to see the issue pop up again.

“This is a dire situation, and business as usual will not work,” Rockefeller said. “It’s clearly the case that we have to take these ideas seriously and work at them. Each of us will have to distance ourselves somewhat from the idea that there is inherent value in each of these, which is true; we have to say there is a more efficient way to do business.”

“Like so many things, the devil is in the details,” Rockefeller added.

The boards eliminated by decree included the Aviation Advisory Board and several community advisory boards for prison facilities, such as the Cedar Creek Corrections Center, the McNeil Island Corrections Center and others.

Gregoire is likely to have a fight over some proposals, such as eliminating the “sunshine committee” set up by Attorney General Rob McKenna. It reviews exemptions in the state public- disclosure law and recommends changes. However, a Gregoire staffer said the committee has only made eight recommendations to lawmakers out of the hundreds of exemptions, and the governor said she thinks lawmakers will have to do the job of evaluating exemptions on their own.

She also wants to eliminate the Home Care Quality Authority, which a voter-approved initiative created a few years ago as part of a home-care unionization push.

Staffers with the Washington Federation of State Employees still are looking at the proposals, but spokesman Tim Welch said there are concerns with how some of the changes are made.

“When we hear consolidation, we are leery it will lead to contracting out,” he said. “That’s kind of the biggest fear – not job loss, but that they will try to cut corners by contracting out.”

Efforts to win support for eliminating boards ran into roadblocks in the most recent legislative session. Gregoire said she thinks lawmakers understand the budget reality better now, and that makes the difference.

“The Legislature last session couldn’t believe the state we were in,” Gregoire said, adding that she now has support from leaders in the House and Senate. “This time, they know we’ve got problems. It’s not going to come as a surprise.”

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688

bshannon@theolympian.com

www.theolympian.com/politicsblog

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