Summary of LAO Findings and Recommendations on the 2010-11 Budget

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Budget Issue
LAO Finding Or

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 Go Back  Office of Planning and Research Elimination of the Office of Planning and Research (OPR). Recommend that the Legislature eliminate OPR and increase by about $500,000 the savings in the Governor's proposal. The Legislature also has options to continue OPR in existence and still produce at least as much budgetary savings as proposed by the administration. 5-05-10

Detailed Narrative

Governor’s Proposal. The Governor proposes to eliminate the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) effective January 1, 2011. Approximately 13 existing OPR positions would be eliminated immediately upon enactment of the 2010-11 budget, and this would generate $571,000 of General Fund savings, according to the administration. Under the Governor’s proposal, nine existing OPR positions related to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Clearinghouse and local planning activities would be transferred to the Natural Resources Agency, and seven other OPR positions—including some that now provide high-level legislative and policy analyses to the Governor’s Office—would be transferred to the Governor’s Office, the State and Consumer Services Agency (SCSA), the Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency (BTH), and the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). This analysis concerns these elements of the OPR proposal. (Other elements of the OPR proposals are discussed in separate analyses to on this site concerning the Governor’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act [ARRA] Inspector General and the proposed California Agency on Service and Volunteering [CASV].)

Elimination of OPR Is Justified. We have long recommended eliminating OPR. Staffed with state employees exempt from the civil service system, OPR’s principal duties have included housing staffers that provide bill and policy analyses to the Governor’s Office. These functions appropriately belong within the Governor’s Office itself. A separate office for them is unnecessary and lessens transparency for the public and the Legislature on the amount of resources being devoted each year to Governor’s Office activities.

Additional Savings Possible from OPR Elimination. As described above, the Governor’s proposal transfers seven OPR positions to the Governor’s Office, SCSA, BTH, and HCD. We recommend that the Legislature eliminate six of these seven positions, which we believe to be nonessential, for additional General Fund savings of around $500,000 per year. We understand that several of these staff members provide enrolled bill and other policy analyses to the Governor and other high-ranking executive branch officials. Under our proposal to eliminate these positions, the next Governor will need to adjust his or her administration's staffing—within budgeted resources—to address any functions performed by these current employees that are desired to be continued. We believe that now is an ideal time to make these changes as it would put the next Governor--to be elected in November 2010--on notice at the beginning of his or her term that gubernatorial staff resources will be set at this lower level.

The six positions to be eliminated under our recommendation, as described in the OPR budget change proposal, would be: two information technology staff proposed to be transferred to the Governor's Office, two legislative staff proposed to be transferred either to HCD or SCSA, and two small business advocate staff proposed to be transferred to BTH.

Under the Governor's budget, the funding and position authority for the existing Director of OPR would be transferred to the Governor’s Office as a Senior Advisor to the Governor. We raise no issue with the transfer of this single position, given the fact that the OPR Director often has been an important, high-level advisor to the Governor.

Vacant Space Issue. Currently, OPR leases state-owned space from the Department of General Services (DGS) in the historic Blue Anchor Building at the corner of 10th and N Streets in Sacramento. Upon OPR’s elimination, DGS will need to find another tenant for OPR’s space, or else certain operating costs of the building could remain unsupported by any other tenant, resulting in cost pressures for DGS. We recommend that legislators inquire at budget hearings about the administration’s plans to find occupants to use the state-owned space to be vacated by OPR.

State Clearinghouse, Planning, and Other Activities. The OPR’s State CEQA Clearinghouse and planning unit performs certain statutorily-required functions that warrant continuation. Accordingly, we raise no issue with the administration’s proposed transfer of this unit to the Natural Resources Agency.

In addition to this unit, however, other existing statutes (such as Sections 65035, 65040, 65040.1, 65040.2, 65040.12, and 65048 of the Government Code) reference various planning, land use, and environmental coordination functions for OPR. It is unclear whether OPR has been performing some of these functions recently. In eliminating OPR, the Legislature might wish to consider whether other entities in state government should be assigned some of these functions. We recommend that the Legislature insist that the administration provide a recommendation as to how each and every existing statutory responsibility for OPR should be disposed. The administration may recommend eliminating statutory requirements, transferring them to other departments beginning immediately, or transferring them to other departments on a delayed basis. In addition, modifications may be proposed to these requirements in order to reduce administrative burdens or improve the quality of reports and functions referenced in these statutes.

Options for Achieving Budget Savings If OPR Is Not Eliminated. Several policy bills seek to modify or expand OPR's role in such areas as environmental and land use planning, and in addition, legislation related to CASV also has been introduced. In light of this legislative policy interest, some have expressed doubts that now is the time to eliminate OPR. If the Legislature chooses to reject the Governor's elimination proposal, it may still achieve the General Fund savings scored by the administration by eliminating several positions, such as those that now provide enrolled bill and policy analyses for the Governor's Office, consistent with parts of the administration's proposal or our recommendations related to OPR and CASV. If OPR is continued, however, some of the positions targeted for elimination in the administration's proposal may need to be continued to perform administrative and financial functions for the office.

Specifically, under this option, one possibility would be for the Legislature to continue OPR (including the existing CaliforniaVolunteers entity) and keep within the office:

  • The two staff analyst positions now proposed to be moved to OPR (already paid for within the Governor's CASV budget).
  • A staff analyst position and the administrative assistant I and office assistant I positions (with combined salary, benefit, and operating expense costs identified at $242,505) now targeted for elimination from OPR's administration unit.

To offset the additional costs of approximately $240,000 resulting from these actions, the Legislature could eliminate some or all of the additional positions in OPR that we have proposed for elimination. A Department of Finance document identifies the combined salary, benefit, and operating expense costs of each of those positions as follows:

  • Assistant to the Governor in the OPR Legislative Analysis Unit--proposed by the Governor to be transferred to HCD ($130,000 General Fund)
  • Staff IPA in the OPR Legislative Analysis Unit--proposed to be transferred to SCSA ($83,000 General Fund and $16,000 other funds)
  • The two information technology staff--proposed to be moved to the Governor's Office ($213,000 General Fund and $41,000 other funds).
  • Small Business Advocate and an assistant from the OPR Small Business Advocate Unit--proposed to be moved to BTH ($206,000 General Fund and $39,000 other funds).