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May 17, 2011 > Brown's budget to eliminate unemployment board

Brown's budget to eliminate unemployment board

By Judy Lin, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP), May 13 - As part of his revised budget, Gov. Jerry Brown will propose eliminating a state board that has been criticized for providing a highly paid landing spot for termed-out lawmakers looking for work.

The elimination of the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board is part of Brown's revised budget to help close the state's remaining $15.4 billion deficit. The Democratic governor will release the full plan Monday.

Administration spokesman Gil Duran said Friday the move will save $1.2 million a year, but that the cut was also symbolic.

Six of the board's seven members are former lawmakers. They each make $128,109 a year, even though the board meets once - and occasionally twice - a month.

Duran said it did not seem efficient for the state to have such a board at a time when deep cuts are being made to services for the poor, elderly and disabled, and cuts to schools and public safety are being considered.

``Although state revenues have improved because of the underlying strength of California's business climate, we're not out of the woods yet - not even close. Cutbacks in boards, commissions and other state services will continue as we work towards a truly balanced budget,'' Brown told The Associated Press in a statement.

The six former lawmakers who would lose their jobs on the board under Brown's plan are Republicans Roy Ashburn, Bonnie Garcia, Dennis Hollingsworth and George Plescia, and Democrats Denise Ducheny and Alberto Torrico.

The board, which grants or denies unemployment insurance benefit appeals, has been criticized in recent years for backlogs and decisions that some critics said were delayed deliberately.

The state Employment Development Department first rules on requests for unemployment benefits. Appeals are then heard by an administrative law judge and ultimately can be decided by the full board, which is appointed by the governor and legislative leaders.

Ducheny, a former state senator who represented the San Diego area, was named by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, while Torrico, a former Fremont assemblyman, was appointed by Assembly Speaker John Perez. The four other lawmakers were named by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Hollingsworth had served as Senate minority leader, while Ashburn had represented the Bakersfield area in the state Senate. Both voted for budgets negotiated by Schwarzenegger.

Torrico said there was a misconception surrounding how the board works and its members' duties.

``Every article I read, we're getting paid to attend one to two meetings a month, which is false. That's a very small part of our job,'' Torrico said. ``We process 25-50 cases a day, every day, every week of the year.''

He said criticizing the unemployment board is equivalent to criticizing a chief executive of a company for having one to two meetings a month with a board of directors.

``That's a very small part of his job,'' Torrico said. ``The bulk of our job is processing the cases. Without an appeals process, we're not going to get federal money.''

He estimated the state has brought in $20 billion in federal unemployment money since the economy soured.

Given the state's budget crisis, Torrico said he supports Brown's efforts to save money and be more efficient. But he said the governor needs to have an alternative appeals process to keep the federal money flowing.

The administration said it is studying a way to handle the appeals more efficiently but does not yet have details. Board Chairman Robert Dresser did not return a telephone message, and other board members could not immediately be reached to comment.

The board elimination comes as Brown tries to save the state money by consolidating agencies and eliminating commissions. Earlier this week, the governor announced combining two personnel agencies into a new California Department of Human Resources.

The administration estimated that merging the State Personnel Board and the Department of Personnel Administration could save up to $5.8 million annually by eliminating as much as one-fifth of the agencies' 427 employees.

A 2004 Schwarzenegger-ordered study called the California Performance Review proposed consolidating 11 agencies and 79 departments into 11 major departments while eliminating 12,000 state jobs. It said 117 of the 339 boards and commissions it examined should be eliminated to save $34 million and to trim 1,153 jobs, many paying more than $100,000 a year.

Schwarzenegger targeted 88 of the boards and commissions in a January 2005 report. Yet by the time the report was issued, Schwarzenegger was already moving on to other priorities and backed off his reorganization plan.

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Associated Press writer Don Thompson contributed to this story.

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