Forbes Magazine notes SLO County as government run amok
January 20, 2014
In a Forbes Magazine article about relentless government bureaucracy, San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution District salaries and Supervisor Adam Hill are used as examples.
“Today, local governments in the U.S. are just as careerist, self-seeking, and mindlessly bureaucratic as any remote bureau in Washington,” Forbes contributor Steven Hayward says before using San Luis Obispo County as an example.
“I’ve been making a case study of my local home county in California, San Luis Obispo. Compared to California as a whole, the county has grown only modestly over the last 30 years. Its politics ought to be fairly simple, but they are not.
“The county government likes to boast that its budget has grown in line with inflation over the past decade while its workforce has not increased at all. But like much of government at all levels today, the real mischief is not to be apprehended on the ‘top line’ figures of general spending and number of direct staff. More and more of local government is being conducted by special agencies, indirectly and tenuously accountable to voters at best, with opaque budgets and complex legal authority.
“San Luis Obispo’s Air Pollution Control District (APCD) is a case in point. Just about every county in California has one of these standalone bureaucracies. They make some sense in high air pollution areas like Los Angeles and Fresno. But air pollution is relatively low in San Luis Obispo County, and is steadily falling because of improving technology driven by national standards. If San Luis Obispo’s APCD were abolished tomorrow, there would be little change in the improving trends of air quality in the county. In fact, if the APCD had been abolished a decade ago, air quality trends would likely have been little different. A close look shows that the APCD exists mainly to perpetuate itself, and provide comfortable employment for its staff.
“Instead, as air pollution continues to fall, over the last decade the APCD’s budget has doubled. Its director, Larry Allen, is paid close to $250,000 a year (plus a car allowance). By contrast, Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, is paid $179,000 a year. Nearly all of the APCD’s staff is paid a six-figure salary. Allen’s chief accomplishment, according to his staff biography, is overseeing the ‘residential wood combustion rule,’ which is exactly what it sounds like: restrictions on the kind of fireplaces that can be installed or used in new residences. The APCD exists not by appropriations from the county or the state, but solely through permit and inspection fees and fines that it determines itself. The perverse incentives here are obvious. Right now the APCD is looking to fill $300,000 in lost revenues from permit fees on a power plant that is shutting down soon. Back in 2010, the APCD charged the state university $13,000 to re-inspect and permit a tractor.
“This kind of government is corrupt at a profound level: largely autonomous entities like the APCD violate the basic principle of the separation of powers, as well as basic understandings of just about any conception of democratic accountability. And this kind of rule is spreading like weeds throughout American government at all levels.
“If you pay attention and complain about this kind of rule, you tend to get the kind of response given last week by the incoming chairman of the board of the APCD, county commissioner Adam Hill. In a letter to the editor of the New Times, the local ‘alternative’ weekly, Hill makes clear that he views all critics of unaccountable bureaucratic rule as ‘conspiracy’ mongers.”