Soapbox

Legislature ignores Caltrans boondoggles as taxpayers suffer

CalTrans resident engineer Jarrett Woodruff inspects a crumbling section of westbound U.S. 50 in El Dorado County in February.
CalTrans resident engineer Jarrett Woodruff inspects a crumbling section of westbound U.S. 50 in El Dorado County in February. rbenton@sacbee.com

The California Legislature is obsessing over relatively minor problems with the state Board of Equalization while ignoring Caltrans boondoggles costing taxpayers billions of dollars. At the same time, in November drivers will be run over by a $5.2 billion a year tax increase.

The Professional Engineers in California Government union has been salivating to fill vacancies at Caltrans and add 400 to 500 positions in the next fiscal year.

But in May 2014, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that Caltrans was overstaffed by 3,500 engineers, costing more than $500 million a year. A year later, the state auditor found abuses at Caltrans that included one employee playing golf for 55 days, as his supervisors approved his time sheets.

In response to the LAO’s report, I wrote Senate Bill X1-9 to bring Caltrans into parity with transportation agencies in most other states, eventually requiring it to contract out 50 percent of architectural and engineering services. Not only did the engineers’ union kill that bill, but it wants more.

But a 2016 study for the American Council of Engineering Companies found that contracting out highway construction brings significant savings to taxpayers. The cost for one year of employing a public design team member was $349,734, compared to just $262,866 for one in a private firm. Potential savings: $86,868 per employee. So if 500 new positions are filled, hiring private contractors would save $43.4 million a year. And combining the study with the 3,500 in “overstaffing” found by the LAO and that’s $1.22 billion wasted.

To clean up the hurried budget compromise, on June 20 the Senate Budget Committee debated a trailer bill that caps Caltrans’ contracting out at 10 percent for another year, protecting the governor’s union buddies with no concern for efficiency. When I asked the Finance Department why we persist in this nonsense, the answer was: It has always been done this way.

It’s a case of union power versus the needs of the people of the state. The $5.2 billion yearly tax increase is an invitation to more union spending and subsidized golf outings.

John Moorlach, a Costa Mesa Republican, represents the state’s 37th Senate district. He can be contacted at senator.moorlach@sen.ca.gov.

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