Wondering why the state Department of Transportation does such an uneven job of delivering highway and bridge projects quickly and efficiently? Part of the answer rests in a report released last week by the state's Legislative Analyst's Office.
The LAO zeroed in on Caltrans' Capital Outlay Support program, which has more than 10,000 positions, many of which can't be justified. "The cumulative evidence from our review shows that the program is overstaffed and lacks strong management," the report stated.
By eliminating 1,500 of those positions, the LAO estimates the state could save $200 million yearly.
That money comes from special state and federal funds, so it couldn't be used to bridge the shortfall in the state's general fund. But it could be used for project construction, speeding up work that would benefit motorists, local governments and transit users.
Public employee unions responded in predictable fashion to the report. Bruce Blanning, who heads Professional Engineers in State Government, called the findings "outrageous" and suggested that Caltrans was too busy with projects to provide the LAO with sufficient justification for all of its positions.
Nice try, Bruce. The LAO pretty much nailed why Caltrans is bloated beyond reason. Costs for the Capital Outlay Program "regularly exceeded the norm," and were higher than costs incurred by similar state and local transportation agencies.
And furloughs? Did that affect the output of this $2 billion program? Nope.
"The imposition of furloughs -- appears to have had no identifiable impact on its productivity, further suggesting that the department is overstaffed for these activities," the report said.
The professional engineers union spends big bucks in the Capitol, which is one reason lawmakers have bloated this Caltrans program and protected it from cuts. Yet in these tight times, that protection must come to an end. That will only happen if enough motorists, taxpayers and voters send lawmakers the strongest possible message.