In these harrowing economic times, the California government is searching everywhere to cut costs in an effort to salvage a state that is broke beyond belief.

Like a hawk scouring the land for running mice, state officials are combing the economic landscape in search of anything they can eliminate and deem as expendable, thus forwarding their all-encompassing agenda of warding of fiscal disaster.

Local news has been spilling over with stories of lives affected by state budget actions and now, perhaps inevitably, the boating world must confront the beast to try and defend itself. As in 1996, the State of California is looking to eliminate the Department of Boating and Waterways as a self-standing entity and merge it into the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Today there are a number of Senate policy committee hearings set up to hear proposals regarding the consolidation or elimination of state government boards, departments and commissions. The committees will review and consider Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposals outlined in his May Revise as well as other proposals. Needless to say, the boating community is up in arms with the thought of losing an arm in the political structure that is devoted to its specific concerns.

“DBW receives no General Fund dollars and is funded by boater fuel tax dollars, registration fees, and interest payments on infrastructure loans,” said a proposed sample letter to the state written by the boating advocacy group, Recreational Boaters of California (RBOC).

“DBW provides accountability, transparency, and leadership regarding the collection and use of boater-derived taxes and fees; the best use of these funds for programs benefiting boating.”

The RBOC and other groups like the California Boating Safety Officers’ Association are rallying the troops reminding the public that the elimination of DBW will not provide the projected $600,000 in savings and they maintain that it would instead eliminate essential boating programs and services.

The DBW currently funds launch ramp construction, loans for marina construction, construction of boating safety centers, boating safety and law enforcement programs, abandoned vessel removal, public outreach programs, and even weed control in boating areas throughout the state. But according to RBOC, “If the two departments merge it will likely result in cuts and delays to current projects and programs for boaters, including the county projects and programs.”

But it’s not just boaters who are against the consolidation. In a statement released in the beginning of the year, county Supervisor Don Knabe expressed his disapproval of the proposal, highlighting what he considers an inherent unfairness when it comes to the financial element.

“The Department of Boating and Waterways is critical to the future of boating in California, and any diversion of funds may result in the rapid deterioration of California’s boating waterways and infrastructure,” said Knabe.

“Additionally, diverting its resources to another state department, which has its own priorities, robs the very community that funds it. Boaters will still pay registration fees, but they won’t be getting the full benefit of those fees as they have in the past.”

Other politicians are also wary of not just this proposed consolidation, but others like it.

“There is no doubt that much can be done to make government work better for the people that it serves,” said Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). “The question is whether we do it in a smart way that maximizes taxpayer dollars while providing the level of oversight the public demands.”

Boaters from all over the state are coming together and making time to battle this proposal, but there are others without a dog in the fight who believe that in these dire economic times, departments that appear as specialty or very particular in scope should be the first to be sacrificed. Although the DBW is self-sufficient, it’s presumed that the consolidation with the Department of Parks and Recreation would be a financial benefit for the state.

“We concur that opportunities for efficiencies and savings exist from reorganizing DBW’s current functions,” the department stated in a recent analysis from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, a self described non-partisan organization.

“We see no reason why another agency, such as DPR, would not be capable of administering DBW’s ongoing grant and loan programs and overseeing its capital outlay activity. By coordinating such activities with similar activities in another agency, efficiencies should result. As such, we think the governor’s proposal has merit and recommend in principle that it be adopted.”

It’s safe to say the DBW will not go down without a fight and it’s likely to be a loud one. Those involved with the legislative side of boating are a well-informed and active collective with plenty of political savvy.

“This Senate hearing will provide the boating community another opportunity to strongly advocate the preservation of the independent Cal Boating [a.k.a. DBW], said RBOC President Dave Breninger. “We are working to increase recognition in the Capitol that this proposed maneuver would not save a single General Fund dollar and that Cal Boating is a model of efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, and leadership that is supported by the entire boating community.”

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