A $145 million project to add a suicide-preventing net to the Golden Gate Bridge is running five years late and the cost is now expected to top $400 million, the San Francisco Business Times reported November 30.

Installation of the 385,000-square-foot steel net was supposed to be completed by 2021, but now is expected to be delayed until 2026.

A suit filed by the project’s general contractors alleges that the taxpayer-funded Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, which operates and maintains the bridge, concealed information about the extent of the bridge’s deterioration before awarding the contract. Additionally, the contractors allege that the district “is responsible for a number of design flaws” and 132 work change orders since construction started on the suicide barrier in 2018, the Business Times reported.

Work was delayed after the district imposed a new standard for the design of the project’s “traveler system” – diesel-powered platforms to be used to move workers under the bridge for installation of the net and maintenance. The suit alleges that the district’s design was out of compliance with the federal Buy American Act, and instead of requesting a waiver from the Federal Highway Administration, the district required the contractors to revise the design, and later shut them out of discussions on the issue. The contractors said the issue was not resolved until February of this year.

“In other words, it was not until five years after the project started and more than a year after the project was supposed to have been completed that the district finally provided [the contractors] with a constructible design,” the suit alleges.

State Agency in Charge of Tobacco Tax Distribution Is Susceptible to Fraud, Auditor Finds. The Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) did not ensure that allocations of tobacco tax revenue to health care providers were not fraudulent and the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration did not collect sufficient documentation during audits to determine whether certain tobacco distributors paid the correct amount of tax, the state auditor reported November 29.

The auditor is required by state law to audit the calculation, distribution, and administration of tobacco tax funds generated by Proposition 56, the 2016 initiative that added $2 in taxes per pack of 20 cigarettes and imposed an equivalent tax increase on other tobacco products, including cigars, chewing tobacco, and electronic cigarettes containing nicotine. The tax hike cost consumers more than $1.3 billion in 2020-21, the auditor reported.

The health department received nearly $900 million in 2020-21 to increase funding for health care services through the state’s Medi-Cal program.

“However, DHCS did not ensure that Medi‑Cal managed care plans appropriately issued supplemental payments to the providers that performed services eligible for increased payments,” the auditor reported. “For example, for more than 20 percent of the medical services we reviewed, the managed care plans were unable to provide evidence that providers performed the services, raising concerns about the potential for fraud. Our review of medical claims for services eligible for supplemental payments also found that DHCS paid a total of nearly $380,000 to 14 providers that were listed on state and federal lists of ineligible providers. DHCS processed these supplemental payments in part because it does not receive information that would allow it to take action against providers when they are arrested for certain crimes such as elder abuse and fraud.”

The auditor found that the CDTFA “has not ensured that distributors who both manufacture or import and also distribute other tobacco products such as cigars and e-cigarettes containing nicotine … are paying the appropriate amount of other tobacco product tax.”

The CDTFA’s regulations allow manufacturer-distributors to calculate the costs to which the taxes apply.

“However, during its audits, CDTFA generally did not obtain sufficient documentation to substantiate the wholesale costs that the manufacturer-distributors reported, increasing the risk that the manufacturer-distributors did not pay the correct amount of tax,” the auditor stated. “Moreover, although state law requires entities that receive Proposition 56 funds to annually report on their websites the Proposition 56 funds they received and spent, five of the entities we reviewed posted inaccurate information. In the absence of accurate information, the public may find it difficult to determine the amount of funds that the entities actually received and how they spent those funds.”