ROADS/BRIDGES: NC Senator yanks bill that would cut 81 DOT jobs

The bill was a “gentle nudge” toward the outsourced privatization of roads work

Law News April 24, 2015
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There is nothing new about the actions of government at any level being, to the average citizen, head-scratching. In North Carolina it seems many folks are scratching themselves bald, after the approval and then removal of Senate Bill 539, a measure linked to 2014’s budget law that stipulated a requirement that the DOT use private contractors for most of the work previously done by employees involved in planning and acquiring land and environmental permits for road and bridge construction.
 
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Rabon, was endorsed by a Senate committee rapidly after its submission. It called for the DOT to layoff 81 full-time employees as a response to the outsourcing targets required by last year’s law. However, a spokesperson for State Transportation Secretary Tony Tata this week stated that the secretary has successfully persuaded the senator to pull the bill from the ratification process. The DOT spokesman announced the agreement but also indicated that some layoffs might be coming.
 
This is a marked reversal of the senator’s seemingly adamant statements made earlier this week. “The last budget act that we passed directed the Department of Transportation to reduce its workforce,” Rabon said this past Wednesday at a Senate Finance Committee meeting. “They’ve been a little remiss in following that direction. This [bill] is a gentle nudge that says we mean business. When we pass the law, we expect the department to comply with that law in a timely fashion. It gives them a drop-dead date to do what they’ve been told to do in the last budget.”
 
Rabon’s bill would direct the DOT to cut jobs primarily in the Right of Way and Project Development and Environmental Analysis units, which together have about 600 employees. The budget law to which this bill referred ordered the DOT this year to outsource 70% of all work done in the pre-construction and technical services units, 50% of roadway design work, and 65% of project development and environmental analysis work. The right-of-way unit was directed to increase its outsourcing by 5%.
 
While it remains unclear what Tata did to change Rabon’s mind, DOT officials and legislative staff members had already worked out the 81 jobs that could be cut to meet the outsourcing requirements. “The elimination and outsourcing of 81 positions in the governor’s budget and Senate Bill 539 are the result of teamwork and conversations throughout the department and General Assembly,” DOT Deputy Secretary Mike Charbonneau said earlier in the day.
 
Likewise unclear is the rationale of curtailing the ability of a state-level agency from maintaining its infrastructure and laying people off in effort to throw more work at private firms.

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