Commentary: Sacramento needs to butt out of local affairs

I have now spent 12 weeks representing California's 37th District as a state senator, and I have noticed the state Legislature enjoys meddling in the affairs of Orange County.

It often happens that a local government will go to elected officials for a legislative "fix" that would allow the local entity to implement a locally desired policy.

Unfortunately, an unpleasant trend has emerged — using the legislative process to outlaw local policies that have been approved and are supported by the local community. I am particularly concerned about the punitive draft legislation I have seen directed toward my county.

For example, last year a budget trailer bill, Senate Bill 854, mandated a change only to Orange County's internal audit structure. This attempt apparently did not go far enough, and the change came back this year in the form of yet another, more intrusive budget trailer bill.

This is a policy question that should be heard by legislative committees in both houses and not slipped into the massive budget bill without a single hearing. If this is a reasonable and necessary change, then introduce a bill and let the process work. Unfortunately, this is a stealthy and far-too-common meddling strategy to avoid the scrutiny of the legislative process.

On Wednesday, the budget committees rejected this last-minute maneuvering. But on the larger issue, Orange County should politely tell the Legislature to butt out.

Then there is Assembly Bill 1217, which would require that the Orange County Fire Authority board be reduced from 25 members to 13. Downsizing the board would mean that some of the contract cities served by the Fire Authority would no longer have a critical seat on its governing body.

The Fire Authority was formerly overseen by the Orange County Board of Supervisors. On Dec. 6, 1994, the supervisors voted to split it off as a separate joint-powers authority.

Having every contract city represented on the Fire Authority board is the appropriate and cooperative approach. Every stakeholder has buy-in, helping the system work. If the board is unable to operate effectively, it must answer to the cities it serves, not the arm-chair quarterbacks in Sacramento.

Why should the state Legislature care about the number of members? The rule of thumb is if you're not helping, you're meddling. Again, Orange County should politely tell Sacramento to butt out.

Meanwhile, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee will hear, for the second time, a rejected request for the California state auditor to review the recent audits of the Orange County Great Park in Irvine.

The goal is to get the answers to nine specific questions. The estimated cost to California taxpayers for this audit-of-the-audit request will be $250,800 (for 2,280 hours at $110 per hour, or $28,000 per question).

Such meddling does not come cheap.

Clearly, the Great Park fiasco has been pushing the envelope for too long. That is why the Irvine City Council took the proactive step of retaining accounting firms to scrutinize the Great Park budget and determine why, after spending more than $350 million, only 6.5% of the park has been developed. During this review, the parties involved in designing the Great Park were not forthcoming. Consequently, the costs escalated, but the resulting information obtained by the audits was damning.

One contractor involved in the Great Park debacle became uncomfortable with this level of scrutiny and came to the Legislature for a state audit of the Irvine City Council's audit, which presumes that Irvine's auditors somehow violated procedures.

Why is the Legislature being used as a tool for retaliation against whistleblowers? Let the city of Irvine get to the bottom of this alleged misappropriation of funds. Irvine should politely tell the state to butt out.

Even more fun, several California municipalities have boldly approved Civic Openness in Negotiations, commonly known as COIN, which opens public employee union contract negotiations to public review and oversight. This is long overdue since public employee unions have garnered, in closed-door sessions, unsustainable pension enhancements and expensive retiree medical benefits.

Opening up the collective-bargaining process is good government. But the public employee unions don't like it, and to stop this emerging good government movement, they ran to Sacramento to meddle.

Senate Bill 331 would require all local agencies that have adopted COIN to also enact something dubbed CRONEY, the Civic Reporting Openness in Negotiations Efficiency Act. The County of Orange happens to be one of the counties to have proudly adopted COIN.

So what could a COIN adopter be saddled with? SB 331 mandates the hiring of an independent auditor to review any proposed outsourced service contracts with private, non-union companies in excess of $50,000. Two public meetings would be required before a contract is approved, after the auditor's detailed report has been released to the public for more than a month.

Basically, it grinds to a crawl the gears of government.

CRONEY is more than meddling. The real purpose of SB 331 is to dissuade other legislative bodies from considering the adoption of COIN. Although the Legislature wants to stop bullying in schools, it is perfectly acceptable to bully elected representatives of local agencies with state mandates.

If CRONEY is good for the governing bodies that adopt COIN, which it is not, then it should be good for every municipality. It's simply meddling at its worst. Again, Orange County should tell the state to butt out!

If these four separate incidents were not enough, now coming down the pipeline is a proposed State Constitutional Amendment, SCA 8, that would require urban counties to have seven, not five, members on their boards of supervisors. Talk about expanding government.

This is what meddling looks like and, yes, it is expensive. Sacramento, your meddling is unnecessary and unwelcome. Local government needs you to butt out!

Republican JOHN MOORLACH is a state senator and a former Orange County supervisor. He lives in Costa Mesa.

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World