On The Money: Cutting Out Caltrans

GOP Lawmakers Seek to Pull Plug on Funding

By Mike Luery

There’s a move at the State Capitol to eliminate the California Department of Transportation, Caltrans, one of the biggest government agencies in the state.

Some Republican lawmakers today accused the giant agency of wasting taxpayer dollars – after seeing a CBS 13 investigation on a Caltrans junket in the desert. Watch

An On The Money story called “Paying for Paradise” documented the Caltrans spending spree in October 2009. Using undercover cameras, CBS 13 took viewers inside a Caltrans convention at a luxury resort in Palm Desert – a convention in which Caltrans shelled out more than $80,000 to send 52 employees to a transportation conference at a four star hotel that offered gondola rides on a manmade lagoon.

“Certainly that story was a tipping point,” said Senator Joel Anderson. The El Cajon Republican called the Caltrans convention, “another example of government waste.”

Anderson is calling for a defunding of Caltrans – an agency that he says is too fat, from a diet of taxpayer dollars.

“If you take their salaries,” Anderson told CBS 13, “total salaries paid and total benefits paid and divide it by the total number of employees, it’s in excess of $100 thousand per employee.”

Anderson says he has a dozen co-authors – all Republicans – who want to take nearly $13 billion from Caltrans and shift that money to local cities and counties for their highways, roads and bridges. Doing so they say, would save $2 billion a year.

“Caltrans has not been a good steward of this money,” Assemblyman Steve Knight. The Palmdale Republican added, “They have not done what they are supposed to be doing.”

The Republicans say they’re taking on Governor Brown’s challenge to realign state government by defunding an agency they believe to be inefficient.

Assemblywoman Shannon Grove (R) Bakersfield, told Capitol reporters, “They’re just not being good stewards with our money.”

Caltrans responded with this statement from Media Relations Manager Matt Rocco, regarding Senate Bill 851:

“Caltrans agrees with Senator Anderson that state government must be as efficient as possible and shares the same goal of looking for ways to save
taxpayer dollars. Caltrans is currently administering one of the largest
construction programs in history with more than $10 billion in projects underway. This is during a time when our staffing levels are the lowest they’ve been since 2004. In the past five years, Caltrans has delivered
1,388 of 1,391 highway improvement projects worth $14.3 billion on schedule.

Working in partnership with local agencies, we are continually looking at ways to improve how we do business. In fact, over the last few years, we have significantly reduced our fleet, travel and vehicle-related spending, mobile phones, and level of management positions, saving taxpayers millions of dollars, all while maintaining more than 50,000 highway lane-miles across the state. It should also be noted that Caltrans received national recognition for its emergency response to rebuild the MacArthur Maze interchange in 26 days following a catastrophic tanker explosion.

We extend an invitation to educate and clarify key points to Senator Anderson on the complexity of maintaining and operating one of the largest transportation networks in the world, as well as efficiency steps we have already taken over the last several years to ensure Caltrans is effectively using taxpayer dollars.”

A group of government engineers also responded to Anderson’s legislation today, calling it “a misguided bill to put local agencies in charge of the state highway system.”

The Professional Engineers in California Government, a group representing 13,000 state engineers issued this statement:

“Caltrans is and will continue to be responsible for ensuring the safety and integrity of the state highway system,” said PECG President and State Engineer Matt Hanson. “Caltrans delivered 304 of 306 projects scheduled for bid during the 2009-2010 fiscal year. And over the past five year, Caltrans has delivered 99.8 percent of projects on or ahead of schedule.”

By contrast, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) reported last year that, local agencies obligated only 72 percent of their federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds while Caltrans obligated 100% of its funds.

“According to the Department of Finance, it costs twice as much to outsource engineering work at Caltrans. Specifically, in the most recent budget, the Department of Finance concludes that a state engineer (including salary, benefits, overhead and equipment) costs the taxpayer $113,000 a year while an outsourced private engineer costs an average of $226,000 annually,” said Hanson. “Local agencies outsource almost all of their engineering services through no-bid contracts.”

But Senator Anderson is not convinced.

“You know what, if we can get rid of Caltrans, I think that would be a good move,” Anderson said. “At the end of the day this is about building roads and infrastructure at the best possible value.”

If you see example of government waste, send us an e-mail to onthemoney@kovr.com. You can also follow On The Money stories in progress via Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/mikeluery

More from On The Money
  • ellie

    Bottom line is that unfortunalty public has not been feed the true information. The reson is very simply, they are people out there, I mean investors, contrctors, who wants to take the job that Catltrans does not because they are nice people, or they want to fix our road better that we do, because they know they can make money and they are the one who feed the media all these garbage of saving money by closing down Caltrans.

  • ellie

    Have you seen any body any medai complians about the Utility companies. They are the one that suck people blood, like Edison and nobody talks about them. Why? Something to think about.

  • Gary Adams

    The politians need to learn the subject before they speak. The State has an obligation to the Federal Government to administer it’s programs. CalTrans has it’s problems and they can improve. Private and local agencies have problems that aren’t made public and the Fed uses the state to regulate and administer federal programs. The State is who is held responsible. The Palm Desert issue is old news re visited. The public deserves better from it’s representatives.

  • Barry

    If we make all State Senators and Legislators part time and cap their salary at $7500 per year we might get better stewarts of our hard earned tax dollars again. California had a part time Legislator until 1966. Self promoting , career politicians has been a disaster for California.

  • Paul

    HAHA this is the worst partisan wrangling I have ever seen. You want to take the federal transportation dollars and give ti to the City of Bell?!!! LMAO this is nothing more than smoke and mirrors by the greedy GOP to remove oversight and spend twice as much money. The AASHTO conference was a National conference. It was mandatory for Caltrans to host it, and they did it on a shoe string budget with the smallest staff EVER for an ASHTO conference. The greed of the wolrves in Sacramento knows no bounds. This is right up there with the court huose building sales fiasco.

  • c.lynn

    Yes, let us eliminate waste, fraud and abuse, but don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. They do a good job keeping our highways in good shape. As an example when the roads flood out here in the antelope valley they are right there to clean up the mess. When we have mud slides they do a good job.We need to keep our roads in good shape. Instead of cutting out cal trans how about not spending more money on high speed rail which will really be a waste of tax payer dollars.

  • Phil

    Anderson, Knight, and Grove are all freakish big money pawns. They want to weaken oversight so they can award huge no bid contracts and do Caltrans work for double the price. This is right up the alley of the courthouse building sales, same mentality. Don’t drink the Koolaid people… The California DOT is the most transparent and underpaid bunch in all of Government agencies. Their salaries have been public information for years on the SacBee website. If you want to see waste, transfer the responsibility down to the regional agencies where everyone is getting paid twice as much and taking gifts and catered lunches from private contractors. Yea, that’s a great idea…

    • bob

      Q:What’s big and white and sleeps six

      A: Cal Trans truck

  • Jay Jay

    If ya get rid of cal trans I guess we can eliminate CHP also. State cops shouldnt patrol roads that are not state maintained

  • http://dbegoodfaith.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/senator-calls-for-dissolution-of-caltrans/ Senator calls for dissolution of Caltrans « DBE GoodFaith Blog

    […] State Republicans see Caltrans as wasteful and inefficient, a view that has gained traction since a Sacramento CBS-affiliate investigation into the department’s decision to send 52 employees to a conference at luxury hotel. In total […]

  • Chirp Chirp

    Anderson, Knight, Grove, where were you when Arnold gave $34.5 Million dollars tax break to Solyndra?
    Where were you when US government fully funded the Doyle Drive Project, and Arnold decided to put this money for other project, and sticking the tax payers with a 30 year mortgage instead? Project cost: $1 billion plus change
    And you are so worry for $80k.


1 2
blog comments powered by Disqus
The Taz Show
LIVE: Monday through Friday from 6am – 6pm ET

Listen Live