Term limits put bureaucracies in charge

EVERY six years, the state Assembly clears out its membership and replaces them with folks with absolutely zero experience. It’s like the physician’s staff telling you as you are about to go in for surgery:

“We’ve replaced all the doctors having six years or more experience with newbie medical interns. That includes the guy who has your life in his hands. OK, Mr. Smith, let’s take out that spleen.”

Assembly members must leave after six years, state senators after eight. That’s not enough time for any man or woman to understand the state budget or keep a monster-sized bureaucracy in its place. By the time they’ve attended a hearing, or tried to read the budget (ha!), they’re raising money for their re-election while promising constituents the moon. Cut taxes? Make changes to state pensions? Tame a bureaucracy? Nah. These guys don’t have the experience nor the contacts across the aisle to effectively govern. Instead, they pass fragrant bills that make them smell good but really cover over the rot in Sacramento.

I understand the thinking (anger?) behind Prop. 140, – which was backed in large part by the San Gabriel Valley’s county Supervisor Pete Schabarum, who later said it was a mistake. But it hasn’t worked.

The Sacramento Bee reported in 2011 that 60 percent of Assembly members and 40 percent of senators termed out in 2008 were appointed or elected to another public-sector job. That’s about the same numbers as in 1980 and 1990.

The unintended effect is a dumber Legislature. And here’s my point: It puts bureaucracies in charge, not our elected officials. Heads of Caltrans and the California Air Resources Board have more power than elected officials.

The Public Policy Institute of California in 2004 said term limits “have eroded legislative capacities in unhelpful ways” while “careerism remains a constant in California politics.”

On Tuesday I met with some key water managers from local districts: Rick Hansen of Three Valleys and Shane Chapman of Upper San Gabriel Valley. Both have decades of experience on the complicated issue of water. They’ve seen imported water supplies reduced due to environmental erosion in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. They’ve seen a compromise bill in 2009 that produced an $11 million bond measure for the November 2010 ballot get postponed until November 2012. Now, as they pointed out, many new legislators don’t know what to do with this measure because they weren’t at the table. Those who were got termed out.

The water folks are faced with re-educating the Legislature on this complex issue.

Likewise, Caltrans has been making moves that the Legislature seems unable to comprehend or stop. For instance, I reported Caltrans’ District 7 was trying to pass off responsibilities for Highway 39, the winding mountain road that provides access to the San Gabriel Mountains to millions of visitors each year.

Yet, aside from a letter of protest, local Assembly members and senators did nothing. At the same time Caltrans says it will never repair the 4.4-mile gap in the state highway and re-connect it to Highway 2 near Wrightwood, it also says it can’t afford to keep up repairs along the entire mountain highway.

Many residents talk about other powerful bureaucracies not being held accountable. For example, folks who’ve seen for-profit water companies raise rates by 20 percent or 30 percent are frustrated with the California Public Utilities Commission, which many water customers of Golden State Water Co. say is not stopping rate gouging. Shouldn’t it be our Legislature who holds the CPUC in check?

“Many (legislative) committees lack the experience to weed out bad bills and to ensure that agencies are acting efficiently and in accordance with legislative intent,” reported the Public Policy Institute.

That’s putting it mildly.

There is a measure on the June 5 ballot that will change term limits by allowing legislators to serve 12 years straight (instead of a total of 14 in both bodies). I don’t know if I’m supporting it or not. I just know that what we have now is the tail wagging the dog.


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This entry was posted in environment, land use, Pasadena by Steve Scauzillo. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steve Scauzillo

I love journalism. I've been working in journalism for 32 years. I love communicating and now, that includes writing about environment, transportation and the foothill/Puente Hills communities of Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Walnut and Diamond Bar. I write a couple of columns, one on fridays in Opinion and the other, The Green Way, in the main news section. Send me ideas for stories. Or comments. I was opinion page editor for 12 years so I enjoy a good opinion now and then.

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