Gov's Steps: Reduce Boards, Reorganize NC Gov't


RALEIGH, N.C.,None - Gov. Beverly Perdue's lengthy career as a legislator surely has taught her that heavy lifting will be required to get the General Assembly's blessing to reorganize state government and eliminate state boards and commissions.

Perdue's announcement that she'll tackle both of these reforms -- made in a short aside during last week's rollout of her state budget proposal -- is part of her announced priority to "set government straight" by making it more responsive and efficient when state tax dollars are scarce.

The governor said by November she'll have a reorganization plan to present to lawmakers. She also said she'd give lawmakers in two to three weeks a list of about 100 state commissions and boards that should be eliminated.

"That will cause great discussion, so get ready for that," Perdue, a former Senate budget-writer, told reporters.

Everyone likes the idea of making government more lean and eliminating state panels that seemingly have outlived their usefulness. But the opposition comes in the details. Lawmakers and special interests get worried about losing their political turf and what they believe are important government duties and avenues for citizen involvement.

It's little wonder the last pruning of boards and commissions occurred in the mid-1980s. The last reorganization occurred in 1996 and the last significant attempt to consolidate government departments failed in 1995 when Republicans balked at Gov. Jim Hunt's proposal to eliminate the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

"We have some areas where we can consolidate now," said 13-term Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, after a meeting when Perdue's budget was presented to legislators, but "you know how it is when it gets to this crowd. They've all got something they want to protect."

There are more 400 boards and commissions alone in which a governor appoints some or all the members, according to a list on Perdue's Web site. Appointments also are made by the House speaker, Senate president pro tempore and other elected officials, so getting rid of a board requires the OK by many parties.

New boards and commissions are formed essentially every year with laws by the Legislature or by executive order from the governor, but rarely are they shut down. There's no permanent procedure in place for the General Assembly to review them periodically to determine whether they have outlived their usefulness.

"What were the intent of these things? Are they political or do they really serve some purpose?" asked Norris Tolson, co-chairman of the Budget Reform and Accountability Commission, which, ironically, was created last year by Perdue. The commission is undertaking a broader review of boards and commissions.

Political connections -- and potentially campaign financial support -- have played significant roles in the past as to who lands seats on high-profile panels such as the Board of Transportation and Board of Education.

Getting on the remaining boards, Coble said, is more about whether the candidate has expertise in a particular subject -- for example, real estate brokers on the Real Estate Commission and well contractors on the Well Contractors Certification Commission -- and how willing the candidate is to serve.

"There's about 20 of them where campaign contributions make a difference, and knowing the governor makes a difference, and having legislative connections make a difference," said Ran Coble, executive director of the nonpartisan North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, which wrote a 618-page report on boards and commissions in 1984.

The center's report urged the Legislature to abolish or merge 98 boards and cap the number of boards by state departments or elected officials making appointments to encourage antiquated panels to be replaced.

Lawmakers ended up abolishing 78 by 1987. Some of those recommended for elimination remain in place today, including several local historical commissions, a version of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Military Affairs and the North Carolina Rural Electrification Authority.

It may be difficult for Perdue to revive talk of abolishing these boards. Perdue likes to promote North Carolina as a military-friendly state and one of the historic commissions -- the Tyron Palace Commission -- is based in her hometown of New Bern.

Perdue may find a government reorganization plan easier thanks to predecessor Gov. Bob Scott, who led the state in the early 1970s through a process to consolidate more than 200 independent state agencies and institutions into what became 19 departments and offices. There are 20 today.

A 1970 amendment to the state constitution gives governors the ability to rework state government as long as departments aren't added or eliminated.

That means Perdue can submit changes to the Legislature in early 2011 and they'll take effect in mid-2012 if the House and Senate don't specifically reject them. Tolson, a former House member and Cabinet secretary for Hunt and Gov. Mike Easley, said discussing possible changes with lawmakers this year could help reduce obstacles in 2011.

"That way, it's not a big surprise," he said.

Previous Stories: April 20, 2010: Perdue Rolls Out Budget Changes For 2010-11