Give Me the Phones, Says Brown

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Governor Jerry Brown has told as many as 48,000 state employees to hand in their cell phones, a cutback he estimates could cut $20 million in budget spending.

While it's true that every little bit helps a state in as much fiscal trouble as ours, it's also true that Brown's executive order is a nice bit of symbolism about making state government more frugal -- especially helpful when he's prepping for a statewide election on $12 billion in taxes.

Brown issued the executive order this morning, which requires the mass mobile phone shutdown by June 1.

"It is difficult for me to believe that 40 percent of all state employees must be equipped with taxpayer-funded cell phones," said Brown in an emailed statement. "Some state employees, including department and agency executives who are required to be in touch 24 hours a day and seven days a week, may need cell phones, but the current number of phones out there is astounding."

(Sidenote: It's worth noting that this is Brown's first executive order as governor. The first executive order of Arnold Schwarzenegger? Cut the car tax, which actually increased state spending.)

The state Department of Finance estimates that the average state cell phone costs $36 a month, which is where the estimated $20 million savings comes from.

And yes, while $20 million is chump change when viewing a $25.4 billion gap, it's not pennies compared to some of the cuts Brown proposed yesterday.

State parks closures or hours cutbacks? Saves $11 million.

Vision coverage for kids in the Healthy Families program? $11 million.

It also may help the governor's political quest to convince voters he's squeezing every dime that he can out of state operations. Brown's budget also includes a reduction in the state's vehicle fleet, cuts to his own staff, and so on.

You can bet he'll remind voters of those kinds of things come this spring, when (if his plan moves forward) he'll be asking for an extension of current income, sales, and car tax rates for five more years.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • http://BigspenderUCBChancellorBirgeneaulossofcredibility Transparency

    University of California refutes Gov budget; inuguration $100,000; Chancellor Birgeneau hires $3,000.000 consultants to do work of his job and of many vice chancellors.
    University of California Chancellor Robert J Birgeneau’s eight-year fiscal track record is dismal indeed. He would like to blame the politicians, since they stopped giving him every dollar he has asked for, and the state legislators do share some responsibility for the financial crisis. But not in the sense he means.

    A competent chancellor would have been on top of identifying inefficiencies in the system and then crafting a plan to fix them. Competent oversight by the Board of Regents and the legislature would have required him to provide data on problems and on what steps he was taking to solve them. Instead, every year Birgeneau would request a budget increase, the regents would agree to it, and the legislature would provide. The hard questions were avoided by all concerned, and the problems just piled up to $150 million of inefficiencies….until there was no money left.

    It’s not that Birgeneau was unaware that there were, in fact, waste and inefficiencies in the system. Faculty and staff have raised issues with senior management, but when they failed to see relevant action taken, they stopped. Finally, Birgeneau engaged some expensive ($3 million) consultants, Bain & Company, to tell him what he should have been able to find out from the bright, engaged people in his own organization.

    In short, there is plenty of blame to go around. Merely cutting out inefficiencies will not have the effect desired. But you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. An opportunity now exists for the UC President, Board of Regents, and California Legislators to jolt UC Berkeley back to life, applying some simple oversight check-and-balance management principles. Increasing the budget is not enough; transforming senior management is necessary. The faculty, Academic Senate, Cal. Alumni, financial donors, benefactors await the transformation of senior management.
    The author, who has 35 years’ consulting experience, has taught at University of California Berkeley, where he was able to observe the culture and the way senior management work.

    (Cal (UC Berkeley) ranking tumbles from 2nd best. The reality of University of California Berkeley’s (UC Berkeley) relative decline are clear. In 2004, for example, the London-based Times Higher Education ranked UC Berkeley the second leading research university in the world, just behind Harvard; in 2009 that ranking had tumbled to 39th place.)

    University of California,Berkeley.

  • P. O. Box

    Jerry Brown needs to take a few business courses. If the restaurant has no customers or the repair shop has to cars to work on, turning off half the lights won’t solve the problem. Both are destined to fail.

    Someone in Sacramento better figure out that cutting expenses might be a stop-gap, but it doesn’t generate any new revenue. The income side of the balance sheet is more important than the expense side. California has become so business unfriendly in recent years that there is little Brown or anyone else can do until that changes. Collecting cell phones is an executive order photo op of the first degree.

  • Tom

    Good start…..smaller government spending!!! Cant make the crazy critics happy, but photo op or not….most CA citizens like this.