MOORLACH UPDATE — Caltrans Sunshine? — September 27, 2014

A commentary in the Daily Pilot provides another perspective on the California Department of Transportation, also known as Caltrans, that is revealing at best and damning at worst. Orange County has a Performance Audit Department (PAD) to review the management and operations of its departments. The State of California has the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO). Like the PAD, the LAO is to review fiscal matters of state agencies and tell the Legislature the truth. Five months ago, on May 14th, the LAO released a 20-page report, titled “The 2014-15 Budget: Capital Outlay Support Program Review,” see http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2014/budget/capital-outlay/capital-outlay-support-program-051414.pdf. The executive summary reads as follows:

The capital outlay support (COS) program at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) provides the staff support necessary to deliver transportation infrastructure projects (such as project design and management). In response to the Supplemental Report of the 2013-14 Budget Package, this brief presents our assessment of the existing COS program and makes a series of recommendations to improve the efficiency and accountability of the program.

While we find that Caltrans has achieved some successes in delivering individual projects and has made minor improvements to the COS program in recent years, the program generally lacks accountability and is not operating efficiently. Specifically, we find that the COS program currently (1) lacks performance data to adequately measure program effectiveness, (2) is experiencing a substantial decline in workload that will result in significant overstaffing starting in 2014-15, and (3) allows for limited legislative and external oversight. While the Governor’s budget makes some proposals that reflect initial steps to address a few of these shortcomings, we find that the proposals do not adequately address the COS program’s limited legislative and external oversight and projected overstaffing. For example, the Governor’s proposals would result in the program being overstaffed by about 3,500 full-time equivalents (FTEs) beginning in 2014-15, at a cost of more than $500 million.

In view of the above, we make several recommendations to improve the program. First, we recommend that the Legislature take a multiyear approach to significantly reduce the budget and staffing levels, beginning with the 2014-15 budget. The freed up funds would then be available for the Legislature to meet its transportation needs, such as repaving highways. We also recommend that Caltrans improve its staffing projections and data quality. Lastly, we recommend the Legislature take steps for the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to perform specific oversight and project approval functions for projects that currently have limited external oversight.

The country folk song, “Sunshine,” was released by Jonathan Edwards during my sophomore year in high school. The lyrics were startling and reflected the times, with the Vietnam War still in progress. But, the term “sunshine” and the first verse and chorus of this song comes to mind after reviewing the recent actions of Caltrans with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) and upon reflecting on the recent LAO report. Here are the lyrics that I’m referring to:

Sunshine go away today, I don’t feel much like dancing
Some man’s come he’s trying to run my life, don’t know what he’s asking
When he tells me I better get in line, can’t hear what he’s saying
When I grow up, I’m gonna make him mine, these ain’t dues I been paying

How much does it cost?
I’ll buy it!
The time is all we’ve lost
I’ll try it!
He can’t even run his own life,
I’ll be damned if he’ll run mine–sunshine

It is such a sad commentary that Caltrans is trying to run Orange County’s life and is telling it to get in line, but they’re using the dues that its residents have been paying (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Troubling Toll Lanes — September 23, 2104). Caltrans appears to be a fiscally sloppy organization that it is out of control and grasping for revenues. “How much does it cost? I’ll buy it!” Unbelievable. “[Caltrans] can’t even run [its] own life, I’ll be damned if [it runs] mine – sunshine.”

Commentary: Toll lanes go against the spirit of Measure M funding

By Assemblyman Allan Mansoor

There has been a lot of discussion about whether toll lanes will reduce traffic and travel time on the 405 Freeway, and that is a worthy discussion. Today, I would like to approach it from another perspective — truthful and efficient use of tax dollars.

As many have mentioned, the Measure M promise was a free lane for everyone in each direction. This project is funded by Measure M and will cost approximately $1.3 billion. The cost of adding a second free lane in each direction is only $100 million more. For just an 8% increase, we can have two free lanes without tolls.

As the legislative session came to a close, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1298, which extends the sunset date for tolls on the 10 and 110 freeways in Los Angeles. For the reasons explained below, I voted no on this bill.

In an analysis, the independent Legislative Analyst’s Office stated that SB 1298 "contains a concession requested by the Professional Engineers in California Government (PEG, Caltrans employees), that local toll revenue be used to reimburse the DOT (Caltrans) for highway maintenance costs in the corridor."

This does not present any problems if funds are used efficiently. But, the report continued: "In May, 2014, the LAO released a review of staff support costs at Caltrans (also known as capital outlay support, or COS). The report determined that COS is overstaffed by 3,500 full time employees, at a cost of more than 500 million per year."

This $500 million of waste is more than five times the cost of building a second free lane on the 405. It’s also notable that the 3,500 employees pay lots of union dues that go to the political campaigns of politicians that allow this waste.

By putting public employee unions before taxpayers, PEG, Caltrans and the legislative majority that passed SB 1298 will burden working-class taxpayers with exorbitant tolls to drive on roads they’ve already paid for.

Who else is supporting the toll lanes? Wealthy corporate interests like the Orange County Business Council (OCBC). They’re backing a wealthy candidate from Los Angeles in the election to succeed John Moorlach on the Board of Supervisors. Their goal is to use Measure M funds to build the infrastructure to support toll lanes while fulfilling the Measure M promise of adding a lane to the 405. Then at some point in the future, they will convert what has already been built into toll lanes.

This issue really boils down to trust and truth. Without Measure M, Caltrans cannot build toll lanes on the 405 – they need to improve the infrastructure (widen bridges, etc.) first. But we already have the money to give Orange County everything it wants, for free, without tolls if we just cut the waste. County supervisors have a vote on OCTA and can stop the toll lanes from going forward. Let’s clean up the mess before grabbing more taxpayer money.

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