California state workforce cuts would hit prisons the hardest

jortiz@sacbee.comMay 17, 2011 

Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget plan axes 5,500 positions from state government and kills or combines more than three dozen boards, commissions, offices and task forces, but the blade won't fall particularly heavily on Sacramento – if at all.

Although two-thirds of the job losses would hit the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, it has unfilled positions in its budget to absorb some cuts. About 200 to 300 at-risk jobs are positions in its Sacramento headquarters, Corrections Secretary Matt Cate said.

Dissolving boards may clean up the state's organizational chart, but the task can be politically vexing and saves relatively little cash.

"This isn't where the big money is. These are smaller pots of money," said Michael Shires, a Pepperdine University political scientist. "And some of these boards tend to have fairly powerful members with connections."

It's no surprise that Brown wants to cut staffing for the state's massive prison and parole department. With some 65,000 employees next year, 160,000 inmates and a $13 billion budget, corrections is the state general fund's biggest single departmental expense.

The staff cut assumes that the state will shift responsibility for tens of thousands of inmates to local government as Brown's budget envisions, starting July 1.

"Our plan is to go full force toward realignment as soon as possible," Cate said.

That would give corrections a running start on shedding about 3,600 jobs, many of them correctional officer slots left vacant for the past few years.

The realignment assumes the public would vote for a five-year extension of current tax rates on sales and vehicles and a four-year extension of income tax rates. The sales and vehicle money would go to local governments to pay for their new responsibilities.

Republicans so far have refused to support the plan.

Brown's budget also would ax 43 state commissions, boards and offices that he says have either outlived their usefulness or whose work can be done more efficiently.

The $82.7 million in savings won't come close to eliminating the state's $9.6 billion general fund deficit, but it could score symbolic points for the Democratic governor.

Getting rid of those government organs can be politically tricky, however.

The Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board that Brown wants to dissolve pays its members $128,109 a year. Six of the seven current members are former legislators.

Another on Brown's list, the state Medical Assistance Commission, negotiates Medi-Cal contracts with hospitals.

It pays its seven members $56,095 a year plus their travel expenses. The Democrat-controlled Senate Health Committee last month killed a measure by Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, to eliminate the commission.

Its current members include the mother of former Sen. Dean Florez, the former chief of staff to former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez and Vicki Marti, wife of former Schwarzenegger chief of staff Susan Kennedy.

Brown also targets the California Postsecondary Education Commission, which coordinates planning for the state's public colleges and university systems. Its 16 members are named by the governor, the Senate, the Assembly and the university systems. They aren't paid a salary but receive $50 per diem for attending meetings.

Other organizations on the chopping block will probably stir constituency protests, such as Commission on the Status of Women (an advocate for women's issues), the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board (which deals with the the state's Healthy Families program) and the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (which handles discrimination claims).

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