Capitol Alert

Lawmaker enters Caltrans’ ‘$25K’ contest – with plan that cuts Caltrans jobs

A Caltrans bridge engineer walks the main cable of the new Bay Bridge in 2014.
A Caltrans bridge engineer walks the main cable of the new Bay Bridge in 2014. San Jose Mercury News file

Now that Caltrans is offering a $25,000 cash award for the best innovative idea, a Huntington Beach lawmaker this week submitted a plan he says would improve the state’s transportation system – in part by cutting Caltrans jobs.

The department, though, said the entry by Assemblyman Matthew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, to its “$25K Find a New Way” contest was dead on arrival, for a technical reason.

Harper’s submission regurgitated his party’s nine-point plan to repair California’s decaying infrastructure without raising taxes. Republicans offered the same proposal several months ago, but majority Democrats paid it no mind.

Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed a mix of taxes, fees and cap-and-trade money to repair roads. Brown also has called a legislative special session to focus on the issue.

Brown’s plan would require a few Republican votes to reach the two-thirds majority required by law to increase taxes, but GOP lawmakers have vowed to resist.

Last Thursday, the Assembly Republicans’ Twitter account announced that Harper had entered the Caltrans contest, one of three state department competitions launched last week that aim to tap the public’s imagination and expertise for state government’s benefit.

Harper followed moments later with his own tweet: “Found the best ideas to improve our transportation system & @AssemblyGOP Members introduced them!”

Among the proposals: Shift existing cap-and-trade money and vehicle fees, lock in a $1 billion annual commitment to transportation spending, and privatize more projects.

And this: “Eliminate redundancies at Cal Trans (sic),” which the Republicans say will save $500 million annually by axing 3,500 Caltrans jobs.

The transportation proposal didn’t get any farther with Caltrans then it did with Democrats, because “$25K For a New Way” rules exclude him.

“While we appreciate the interest of the Assembly member applying for our contest, state government employees and their families are not eligible to enter,” Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco said. “However we appreciate any opportunity to get the word out about our contest.”