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An alternative to axing boards, commissions

Post by Cheryl Tucker on Dec. 27, 2009 at 5:01 pm |
December 24, 2009 4:03 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

State government has a host of small appendages: commissions, boards and advisory committees with a dizzying variety of functions. Many may wind up casualties of the brutal cost-cutting the Legislature will soon begin as it deals with a $2.6 billion shortfall.

Some of these boards and commissions have already been killed. Early this month, Gov. Chris Gregoire eliminated 17 by executive order, including the Aviation Advisory Committee, the Religious Advisory Board and the State Genetics Advisory Board. Few state residents probably are aware these bodies even exist, so they’re unlikely to be missed by many.

The governor has also requested that state lawmakers finish off another 78 boards and commissions, including the Committee on Agency Officials’ Salaries, the Fairs Commission, the Midwifery Advisory Committee and the Livestock Identification Advisory Board.

It could have been worse. The state has an estimated 400 boards and commissions, many of which on paper at least seem to have overlapping missions and could be candidates for merger, at the very least. (As one letter to the editor writer recently wondered, does the state really need separate commissions for potatoes and seed potatoes?)

It’s easy to look at the names of some of the candidates on Gregoire’s hit list and wonder why they were formed in the first place. And the governor is right to look at every way possible to save money that will be needed for vital state services such as health care for children and K-12 education.

But must boards and commissions need to be completely eliminated to save money? What if those serving on some of them offered to serve on their own dime, without state staff support and without expenses reimbursement? Surely for some of the members, service is a labor of love they would like to continue if only in an ad hoc way.

For example, take the Public Records Exemptions Accountability Committee – better known as the Sunshine Committee. It’s charged with examining exemptions to the state’s public records law and recommending which ones should be retained or ended. It’s on the governor’s recommended list for legislative termination.

An option for that committee, if the Legislature does eliminate it, is to become a committee of the Washington Coalition for Open Government. It could present recommendations that the Legislature could either accept or reject – which is essentially what is happening now.

There’s sure to be blowback from members of the boards and commissions targeted by the governor. If they’re committed to the work they’re doing, they should have the option of continuing to do it – without state funding.

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