A San Diego County state senator has an idea on how to help balance the state budget: Basically, eliminate Caltrans.
The legislation by Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, is short on details — he says its an invitation to Gov. Jerry Brown to work with him and other Republicans on a final bill to wipe out Caltrans waste.
But Anderson said in a statement that his general idea is for federal and state highway funding “to flow directly to cities, counties and local transportation agencies, which could partner with construction firms to actually get roads built and repaired without having to navigate the tentacles of a state bureaucracy.”
The idea is intriguing to Tom O’Kane, deputy director of the Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works Department. But first, he said, “show me the money.”
“From an operations standpoint, it sounds that it could be promising,” O’Kane said, noting other states have similar procedures.
But his concern is that the Legislature might start out providing enough money for local governments to maintain state highways but over time might shift some of that funding to other programs, leaving local agencies in the lurch.
While O’Kane said he’s not sure about outright abolishing Caltrans, he wouldn’t mind ending some aspects of Caltrans, such as its requirement that it “sign off on everything” for local road and bridge projects where state or federal money is involved. He said such oversight can delay projects by months or years and add unnecessary costs. Let local agencies deal directly with the feds, he said.
In unveiling his bill earlier this month, Anderson said “we should not be afraid to dismantle programs that have grossly underperformed.”
He said Caltrans’ budget has doubled to $12.8 billion over the last 10 years but “new highway construction has virtually flat-lined during the same period.” He said Caltrans’ culture has gone from “a nation-leading ‘can-do’ attitude to an embarrassing ‘probably-not’ mentality.”
He said the average yearly pay of Caltrans’ 20,000 employees is $100,000, including salaries and benefits.
Anderson’s legislation apparently was prompted in part by a report this month by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office that said Caltrans’ Capital Outlay Support program is “overstaffed and lacks strong management” and recommended that 1,500 of the 10,359 jobs there be eliminated if Caltrans can’t justify the staffing.
The report said the job cuts would save about $200 million in state and federal funds that could be used for construction projects. The Capital Outlay Support program handles environmental, design and construction oversight for highway projects.
In response to Anderson’s bill, Caltrans issued a statement that it’s always looking to improve “how we do business” and strives to save taxpayer dollars.
But it said Anderson’s “assertion about the status of new highway construction in recent years is simply not true. Caltrans is currently administering one of the largest construction programs in history with more than $24 billion in 3,500 ongoing projects.”
Caltrans also said it has “more than 1,000 projects worth $50 billion in the pipeline for future construction work. This is all during a time when our staffing levels are the lowest they’ve been since 2004.”
“Eliminating Caltrans would result in an ineffective and scattered patchwork of local projects, hamper the movement of goods and people, and ultimately hurt our economic competitiveness,” it said.