Opinion

Dan Walters: Whom do we hold accountable for vital services?

dwalters@sacbee.comJune 29, 2014 

Who sees to it that California’s 6 million K-12 students receive solid educations?

Who ensures that California has an adequate supply of reasonably priced electric power?

Who oversees Californians’ access to health care, now the state’s largest single economic activity?

Who’s responsible for collecting $200 billion a year in state and local sales, income, excise and property taxes?

Who controls resources for the nation’s largest court system to resolve criminal and civil conflicts?

Who controls the flow of that most precious commodity, water?

In other words, whom do we hold politically accountable for the public and private services that are utterly vital to our personal, collective, social and economic well-being?

Don’t know?

Don’t feel ignorant because, really, no one knows. Jurisdiction for these and many other aspects of modern life have been diffused among so many agencies that even the most astute observer can be flummoxed.

Public education? Is it the governor, the Legislature, the state superintendent of schools, the state school board, the local superintendent and school board, or the county superintendent and school board?

All hold some responsibility, but the lines are very blurry. When something positive happens, everyone claims credit, but when things go awry, the buck is quickly passed around.

Energy policy? In addition to the governor and the Legislature, we have the Public Utilities Commission, the Energy Commission, the Independent System Operator and – gaining power fast – the Air Resources Board. Their turf battles are incessant, but negative events – like blackouts – are political orphans.

Medical care? It’s a jungle, with the new health care exchange, Covered California, joining the Department of Managed Health Care, multiple medical licensing boards, the state Department of Health Care Services and state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

One obscure agency, the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, was recently abolished, but Jones seeks even more power via ballot measure and is taking flak from Covered California.

Taxes? The Employment Development Department is a huge tax collector, as are the Franchise Tax Board and the Board of Equalization, each with its own policies.

The courts? Politicians give the money, but the Administrative Office of the Courts and the state Judicial Council divvy it up and spar incessantly with 58 county court systems.

And water? It’s another alphabet soup of federal, state and local agencies, along with the usual cast of politicians and a huge, confusing body of laws and court decisions that purports to define who gets how much and what they pay.

So who’s accountable for outcomes? Seemingly everyone, and therefore no one.

Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, www.sacbee.com/walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.

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