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September 2000
Guest Commentary

Proposition 35 Accelerates Transportation Project Delivery and Saves Taxpayer Dollars
By Todd Nicholson

If you want to accelerate transportation improvements, create thousands of jobs and save taxpayers dollars, you'll like Proposition 35 on the November ballot.

Proposition 35, the Fair Competition and Taxpayers Savings Initiative, is straightforward and short. It simply gives state and local governments the flexibility to use private-sector engineers and architects. That means we can put them to work on the thousands of highway, rail transit and other badly needed infrastructure projects sooner, safely and at a $2.5 billion taxpayer savings, according to an economic impact analysis authored by Steven Moss of M. Cubed. (For a complete copy of the report, visit Cal-Tax Online (http://www.caltax.org.)

All the other 49 states, as well as the federal government, already have that flexibility to use both public and private architects and engineers. Only California faces severe restrictions that prevent it from using the private-sector expertise to speed the delivery of needed projects, from earthquake retrofits in Los Angeles and San Francisco, to expanded interchanges in Sacramento and San Diego, or new lanes on existing highways in communities from the Inland Empire to the North Coast.

Proposition 35 will fix that wrong. It's a solution that lets us put all our resources to work at a time when we need everyone on the job tackling California's traffic problems and other infrastructure needs.

Traffic gridlock is fast becoming a way of life in California. The state Department of Transportation reports we spend nearly $8 million a day in wasted time and excess fuel due to congestion. It's frustrating enough to sit in traffic, but tempers should boil over when you realize thousands of planned highway, rail transit and earthquake retrofit projects aren't moving any faster.

We're in this predicament as a result of lawsuits filed by the union that represents the state transportation engineers - the Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG) - who want to keep all the design and engineering work in-house. Those lawsuits have severely restricted California's ability to contract with the private sector. Just last year, 24 earthquake retrofit projects were canceled. These were contracts with private-sector firms that have specialized seismic safety expertise. Now local governments are threatened with similar restrictions on their ability to work with the private sector.

Proposition 35 also will save billions of dollars. According to the economic impact analysis of the initiative, "Proposition 35 will save California taxpayers $2.5 billion a year, just in costs related to transportation. It will mean work to expand or improve freeways and transit systems, as well as seismic upgrades and other public works projects will all be done more quickly. That saves money, and also means Californians enjoy the benefits of that work sooner - such as less time lost in traffic jams." The report also found that the use of public-private partnerships - now severely restricted in California - has been a proven success in the past in California and are working well today around the nation.

Proposition 35 also will speed the delivery of other overdue projects, such as classroom construction, school and hospital earthquake retrofits, flood control and park improvements.

PECG has put what's best for their members ahead of everything else. Proposition 35 puts the priorities of all Californians first. Proposition 35 will allow state and local governments to select architects and engineers - public or private sector - whatever the best choice is to get the job done. This initiative calls for the same competitive selection process to award those contracts that's used by other states and the federal government.

We have the resources to get the job done. Join the California Taxpayers' Association, Coalition for Project Delivery, California Chamber of Commerce, League of California Cities, Californians for Better Transportation, Associated General Contractors, California Building Industry Association, Californians for Adequate School Housing, California State Association of Counties, Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors of California, California Minority and Women's Business Coalition, National Federation of Independent Business, National Council for Public-Private Partnerships and more than 150 school districts, cities, counties and other public agencies and support Proposition 35. Let's get to work.


Todd Nicholson is president of Californians for Better Transportation.