In the now completed Legislative Session, where liberals achieved a large number of their objectives and have done some chest pounding, it is nice to see that the conservative minority was able to hold back transportation related tax increases.
Tax increases require a two-thirds vote, or 27 votes in the Senate. It is good to have 13 Republicans and one vacancy, due to the recent passing of Sen. Sharon Runner, in the Senate. This only leaves 26 Democrats, one shy of a two-thirds vote. Of course, one of my Republican colleagues could be peeled off for a vote, but that one Senator would immediately become very famous, and probably not in a good way. And, this assumes that Republicans hold on to their 14 seats in the Senate in the November General Election.
This is the second Labor Day weekend as a State Senator that the OC Register has provided an editorial on the topic of the costs of government labor (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Pricey Labor — September 7, 2015 September 7, 2015 John Moorlach). The LA Daily News and Daily Breeze do the same in the piece below. It is becoming an annual tradition to discuss government costs and why tax increases are not the solution.
For me, it is embarrassing and unconscionable that the liberals are asking for a tax hike, one that will give a dysfunctional and poorly managed department the proceeds. Allow me to belabor you and provide a few reminders.
*A department that only uses 20 cents out of every dollar it receives for repairing roads.
*A department that has received increasing gas tax revenues, but has kept spending level.
*A department that has been increasing its pension plan contributions at the sacrifice of repairing roads.
*A department that has diverted scarce revenues to just one botched project.
*A department that has a tough time telling the truth and being cost effective.
*A department that has received the Golden Fleece award.
*A department that is overstaffed.
*A department that has had embarrassing symptoms of overstaffing become very public.
*A department that is run by its public employee union.
*A department that refuses to outsource.
*A department that has been overbudget on nearly two-thirds of its projects.
*A department that is tone-deaf toward self-help counties.
How does a state department run so amok? California does not have a CEO or a CFO. However, state government appears to be run occasionally by reactions to audit reports (which are normally ignored).
But, sometimes an audit report generates legislation, usually requiring departments to prepare a report. And, who reads the reports?
I asked this rhetorical question on the Senate Floor recently. Last Monday, the next following day of Session, I found two feet of reports on my Floor Desk. Fun life. Fun prank. But, seriously? Have we seen any reform at Caltrans?
*Well, to close this topic, I have some suggestions for reforms.
Caltrans needs reform, not more taxes
Transportation is critical to the California economy and quality of life, but it is regularly given short shrit by legislators in Sacramento. Rather than fixing the well documented transportation funding, staffing, management and efficiency problems, however, Democrats in the Legislature chose to fall back on their old standby: tax and fee hikes.
Senate Bill X1-1 proposed a $7.4 billion per year transportation plan funded by raising the gas tax from 27.8 cents per gallon to 44.8 cents (a 61 percent increase) and raising the diesel tax from 16 cents to 46 cents (a 188 percent increase). In addition, it would have imposed an annual $165 fee on zeroemission vehicles, which would seem to be sending mixed messages, given that the state encourages ZEV purchases through special carpool lane privileges and taxpayer-funded rebates worth thousands of dollars each. Fortunately, the measure failed to gain traction in the Legislature.
Gas tax increases certainly have not solved the problem in the past. California has among the highest gas taxes in the nation, yet it has the second-worst urban highway pavement conditions, according to a September 2014 Reason Foundation study. A better approach would be to place a higher priority on transportation funding and ensure that what we do spend is not redirected or wasted, starting with the California Department of Transportation, which just earned the Independent Institute’s California Golden Fleece Award.
“[T]he irresponsible Caltrans has wasted billions of taxpayer dollars and even lied to lawmakers to cover its tracks,” Independent Institute Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation Lawrence J. McQuillan wrote in a recent post. The latter charge refers to a budget modeling system on which that the agency spent $250,000 in 2009 to more eiciently allocate funding based on highway maintenance needs. Caltrans told the Legislature that it was utilizing the system, despite the fact that it was never implemented.
“Caltrans’ history of wasting taxpayer money, while at the same time demanding more funding, justifies drastically scaling back the agency and transferring all highway and bridge maintenance to private contractors who submit winning competitive bids,” Mc-Quillan added.
Caltrans is far behind other states in its contracting activity and the eicient use of scarce budget resources. “An average state transportation agency outsources 50 percent of its architects and engineers,” state Sen. John Moorlach, R – Costa Mesa, noted in a recent Orange County Business Journal column. “Arizona and Florida outsource more than 80 percent. Caltrans outsources only 10 percent.”
Sen. Moorlach also suggested a number of additional common-sense reforms, including reorganizing Caltrans’ district-based decision-making structure, delegating some road construction funds to the counties, setting aside money each year to build up a reserve fund for road maintenance and replacement and putting an end to the disastrous highspeed rail project.
Caltrans has been repeatedly reprimanded for its waste and ineiciency by the California State Auditor and the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Oice, but somehow it never seems to face any consequences or adopt needed reforms.
Given the state’s serious transportation needs and all the waste in Caltrans, the Legislature should make transportation funding a priority within the existing budget and focus on being more eicient with existing programs before imposing more taxes on drivers.
This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District.
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