Funding for California’s highways, streets, and public transit is insufficient to meet the 21st century needs of our growing population and expanding economy. The value of the gas tax is declining. Bond funds are exhausted. Emergency federal recession recovery funds have been spent.  And there is no relief on the horizon.

ACEC California believes there is no single solution to the problem of infrastructure funding but that a strong first step is the identification of existing waste in state government.

In his May Revision, Governor Jerry Brown calls for a reduction in funding to the capital outlay support (COS) program at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The COS program provides the staff support necessary to deliver transportation infrastructure projects (such as project design and management), and in the 2013-2014 budget supported 10,149 full time Caltrans employees (to the tune of $1.8 billion).

That’s a lot of paychecks, pensions and benefits to keep up with. More importantly, that is a lot of money not being spent building improvements to meet the direct transportation needs of the state.

ACEC California robustly applauds the Governor’s leadership in seeking to reduce the COS budget, while acknowledging that there is more to be done.

In 2011, the California State Auditor presented a report concerning the performance, management, efficiency and budget of the COS program. The report concluded that while Caltrans sought flexibility to hire consultants rather than permanent employees to address a temporary increase in workload (such as that created by Proposition 1B bond funding), the imprudent customary staffing ratio of 90 percent permanent state staff and 10 percent private-sector engineering companies won the day.

Recently, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) released its own review of the program in conjunction with the Governor’s current year proposal, indicating that Caltrans construction funds drop from $4.9 billion to $2.6 billion, and stating that Caltrans “is experiencing a substantial decline in workload that will result in significant overstaffing absent corrective actions.”

The simplicity of the solution is evident.

The LAO report recommends cutting up to 3,500 Caltrans positions, a move they estimate would save up to $500 million a year. For years, ACEC California has promoted the expanded use of private-sector consulting firms (engineers, land surveyors, geologists), especially for limited funding sources, as it provides stability to the state work force and has proven to be an important element of cost-effective and timely project delivery.

As a state, we are literally throwing money away while our crumbling transportation financing system collapses around us. It won’t be long before our actual infrastructure does the same. Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of state workers to rebuild it; we just won’t have the money to pay them.

Brad Diede is executive director of ACEC California, a 50-plus year old nonprofit association of private consulting engineering and land surveying firms based, and doing business, in California.