In his proposed state budget Governor
Jerry Brown called for shifting state revenue and state authority for a number
of major programs from the state to local governments.  Without a doubt transportation should be at
the top of the list. 

In transportation local governments
already have experienced personnel, established organizational structures and a
proven track record of delivering quality projects on time and on budget.

Specifically, over the past 27 plus years
California’s nineteen Self-Help Counties (SHCs) have done an excellent job
improving our state’s transportation system. 
Time and again these county authorities have gone to their local voters
and told them that if they approve a local sales tax increase for a limited
number of years, the county will deliver a specified list of local
transportation projects within a specified time.  The county authorities know that if they do
not deliver on their promises, they will lose the trust of their local voters
and will find it very difficult to pass future local sales tax measures.

The SHCs have no margin for error or
insincerity.  They have to achieve a
two-thirds vote for a tax increase, and then they have to actually deliver the
projects.  Moreover, they have to deliver
the projects in a state where-to say the least-the project approval process is
not for the faint of heart.  Yet over and
over again the counties have delivered the goods.  They have done it in large counties, in small
counties, in liberal counties and in conservative counties. 

By any measure the SHCs have established a
truly an amazing record.  Indeed, one
shudders to think what our transportation system would be today without these cost-effective
county programs.

Meanwhile what is the situation at the
state level?  After conducting a thorough
study of Caltrans utilizing multiple independent measures, the state’s
Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) concluded that conservatively Caltrans is overstaffed by 1500 personnel years (PYs). 

That is no small potatoes.  Adopting the LAO’s recommendation would free
up $200 million per year for new
projects-that equals $1 billion in new money for the five year State
Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) indefinitely.  That $1 billion per cycle in new project
money would create jobs, jobs, jobs-the very thing which is the highest
priority for today’s voters.

Freeing up this $1 billion per cycle for
transportation is particularly important, because other sources of state
funding for transportation are rapidly diminishing.  Prop 1B, the $19 billion bond fund passed in
2006, is running out.  Federal ARRA money
is winding up.  Traditional federal
transportation funding is diminishing. 
And between inflation and people shifting more and more to high mileage
cars, the gas tax is losing its ability to generate revenue.

Caltrans is big-very big for an
engineering organization.  Here is an
illustration of just how big Caltrans is: 
It has over 20,000 employees, over 9,000 of whom work in project
delivery.  In comparison, the nearly
1,000 engineering companies which are members of ACEC California in total also employ about 20,000
people.  However, unlike Caltrans these
1,000 mostly small private engineering companies provide services to the entire
private economy, nearly all local public agencies, most state agencies and
federal agencies with projects in California. 
And these 1,000 firms and 20,000 private sector employees plan, design
and inspect much more than transportation projects .  They also deliver projects for water, energy,
education, environmental improvement, housing, commercial complexes, industry,
etc., etc.

Can anyone seriously doubt that Caltrans
is overstaffed?  Would not that money be
much better spent on actual projects? 
Would two thirds of the voters approve a tax increase, if the voters
were told the money was all going to Caltrans?  Have not local governments shown us that there
is indeed a better way to get the job done?

Governor Brown rightly points out that our
state is facing a major crossroads, and that we need to make basic
decisions.  Will it be, for example, just
business as usual for our system of delivering needed transportation
projects?  Or will the state make
fundamental changes to streamline and speed up its system of project
delivery-changes that are similar to what virtually all other states are now

The state employees union at Caltrans (Professional
Engineers in California Government or PECG) recently publicly released a letter
(addressed to Senate Pro Tem Steinberg and Assembly Speaker Perez) essentially
arguing for the former.  ACEC California
then sent a response letter (to see it click here) advocating the

Yes our state is at a crossroads.  Which path do you think will best serve our