California bills to fast-track road work die in legislature

| 5/8/2006

A pair of bills offered in the California Legislature intended to put road and bridge work in the state on the fast track have died. Two other initiatives that are part of the transportation package, however, remain active.

One bill would have authorized the California Department of Transportation to use the so-called “design-build” concept for transportation projects. Sponsored by Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Sacramento, the bill – AB2025 – remained in the Assembly Transportation Committee April 28, the deadline to advance for consideration.

About 40 states now use design-build in some capacity. California uses the concept for about a half-dozen projects, The Sacramento Bee reported.

The design-build contracting process allows contractors to submit plans to design and construct each project. Typically, one firm designs a highway and another builds it, with the two tasks bid separately.

Supporters say the process is a way to speed construction and save money, while improving accountability. Opponents say the practice falls far short of the goals promised by its backers. They also say it creates a huge windfall for just a handful of big construction companies.

Prior to the bill’s demise, a spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the governor supports design-build because it’s good for California.

Schwarzenegger signed a bill early this year authorizing design-build for the construction of a high-occupancy vehicle lane on a stretch of the San Diego Freeway in Los Angeles. A toll road under construction in San Diego County also is using design-build, The Bee reported.

The effort was one in a package of infrastructure legislation.

The second failed effort in the package sought a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said would earmark up to $35 billion for state infrastructure during the next decade.

The measure – ACA27 – never went before a committee for consideration.

It would have instituted a “pay-as-you-go” approach designed to set aside general fund money in each budget year for state infrastructure. It would have set aside 1 percent of the general fund for critical projects like highways, levees and water-delivery systems, and education. The measure included a provision that would have allowed the amount to increase each year if certain conditions are met.

Another proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that is still active would authorize further protections to ensure state fuel taxes are spent on transportation work.

In 2002, California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 42 requiring fuel pump sales tax revenues to be used solely for transportation. However, that law allows the governor and state lawmakers to divert the money in the case of a fiscal emergency.

Sponsored by Assemblyman George Plescia, R-San Diego, the proposed amendment – ACA4 – would delete the provision authorizing the transfer of fuel tax revenues to the state’s general fund.

It would require a two-thirds vote of the Assembly and Senate to send it before voters in a statewide election.

Another effort, offered by Assemblyman Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, would fully restore all funds in the 2007-2008 state budget that have been diverted from Proposition 42 projects since 2003.

ACA4 is in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Huff’s bill – AB2028 – is awaiting assignment to an Assembly panel.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor