Most of us have driven past a road crew and from our vantage point it appeared little was being accomplished. We think of the old jokes asking “how many men does it take” to complete a variety of tasks, because at that moment we see one man working while our tax dollars are paying five or six men to lean on their shovels and watch.
It’s not that Caltrans and road crews are lazy, it’s because somewhere in the bureaucracy someone misallocated resources. So, don’t get angry. Save that rage for the Caltrans workers who should be repairing roads instead being paid with taxpayers’ dollars to campaign for even more tax dollars.
When Gov. Jerry Brown signed the $52 billion fuel-tax increase last year, he promised the revenue would produce “safe and smooth roads” that would make “California a better place to live.” The largest tax hike in California history increased state gas taxes by 12 cents gallon, and diesel by 20 cents, leaving the state with the second-highest gasoline prices in the country. The law also created a per-vehicle fee ranging from $25 a year for automobiles valued at less than $5,000, up to $175 for more expensive cars.
Government accountability should dictate that fuel-tax revenue is dedicated only toward building new roads and fixing broken streets and crumbling bridges. Ideally, fuel taxes are user fees, the revenue they generate used exclusively for the benefit of those who produce it.
But fuel tax revenue is too often diverted to projects that have nothing to do with roads, such as bike paths, recreational trails, pedestrian walkways, mass transit, and safe-school routes.
Apparently, they are also being used to fund opposition to Proposition 6, the effort to repeal the fuel-tax hike. The Washington Free Beacon reported recently that Caltrans contract workers were seen along Highway 78 in San Diego County stopping traffic and handing out flyers opposing the initiative, which will be on the ballot this fall. San Diego’s KUSI television said the workers, who distributed the “Stop the Attack on Bridge & Road Safety” flyers, were “supervised by a Caltrans employee.”
In a grievance letter sent to Caltrans, the contractor, and the group behind No on Prop 6, Carl DeMaio, the Yes on 6 chairman, complained that the Caltrans supervisor and road crew performed taxpayer-funded work at the site from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 28, and held up traffic while doing it.
A Google Traffic Analytics report from 11:42 a.m. “showed RED and ORANGE traffic conditions” at that time and “reported a traffic delay of 16-24 minutes,” says the letter. The crew “slowed traffic down and engaged each driver for the sole purpose of distributing ‘express advocacy’ campaign literature from the No on Prop 6 campaign committee.”
DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman, told PRI there is documented evidence that “government staff,” not just contractors, “is actively engaging in the No on 6 campaign.”
“There’s a culture of corruption,” he said.
One witness said that when he arrived at the Highway 78 site at about 11 a.m. “all traffic was stopped by the road construction flagman,” who was walking down the center of the highway, “knocking on the windows of cars” while holding “a stack of flyers in his hands.”
The witness said he complied with the order to stop and roll down his window because “the California Vehicle Code and Penal Code mandate criminal violations and penalties for failing to obey the directions of a Caltrans or other authorized roadway workers directions.” Neither he nor the other held-up drivers felt free to leave and were therefore “at the sole mercy and direction of this government-funded campaign worker.”
DeMaio believes the road crew’s behavior constitutes a pattern of criminal behavior.
First, he alleges taxpayers’ dollars were used for political activity, a violation of state law.
Second, drivers were reportedly ordered to completely stop on a highway, which, according to the state vehicle code, is against the law unless “the stop is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law.”
Third, candidates and political committees are required to report political donations from state and local governments (which itself is unlawful), as well as from other sources, which apparently has not happened.Using taxpayers’ money for politics is rather common in California. Veteran columnist Dan Walters said it’s done “with little fear of being slapped down by” prosecutors and state agencies. Maybe reports of Caltrans’ political activities, which also include a sign campaign promoting the fuel-tax hike in areas where no road work is being done, will change that.