State Audit Urges $12-Million Cut in AQMD Budget

Urging major belt-tightening for a staff already strapped by sharp layoffs and pay cuts, a state audit Tuesday recommended that the South Coast Air Quality Management District slash its budget as much as $12 million, mostly from salaries.

For the first time under a new state law, the California Air Resources Board reviewed the smog agency's $97-million proposed budget, seeking ways to cut expenses without disabling enforcement of the region's anti-smog laws. The AQMD--funded almost entirely by fees and fines paid by businesses--has been under fire in recent years from the Legislature, which has limited the fees it can collect.

The auditors reported that AQMD salaries are 20% higher than for comparable jobs at the state air agency in Sacramento.

But AQMD Executive Officer James Lents said Tuesday that he doubts whether salaries can be reduced much further because pay has been frozen for two years and some wages have been cut.

Other cost-saving recommendations included cutting out-of-district and foreign travel by nearly half.

The state officials recommended no reductions in funds for enforcement of smog rules.

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