Here we are in March already and things are starting to happen that impact all employees. First, the good and bad news is that we have a state budget, with various elements that affect all of us: tax increases; cuts in programs; and borrowing against future revenues. Now that we have the budget, however, the picture is a lot clearer and we can move ahead.
Despite the impacts, we are in better shape here in District 7 than many people in the private sector who have lost their jobs and people in other government agencies, even other Caltrans districts, who are in a much weaker position than we are. In that sense, I have to be very pleased with the position we’re in. Our normal STIP and SHOPP program, paid for by the excise tax and the state sales tax on gasoline, will continue forward. Based on the budget, some of our major capital projects, particularly those funded by Proposition 1B, might be looking at some delays. But the federal stimulus might reduce those delays considerably compared to our original predictions. We’re going to have to work on that over this next month to determine which projects move forward quickly and which projects don’t.
We are also fortunate that our partner, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), has approved purchasing some Prop 1B bonds to fund projects in Los Angeles County. This is another reason why our projects might go ahead of others. Also Los Angeles County voters last November passed Measure R, which provides a new ½ cent sales tax for transportation projects, primarily for transit but there are also road projects included. All of that creates a very stable picture for District 7 well into the future. While the economy is suffering, and we along with it, we are in better shape than a lot of people are and need to appreciate that.
I am so proud of all of you in the district. Everyone has responded exceedingly well to the confusion, the furloughs, and the related stresses. Each and every one of you, from all reports, has done an excellent job of carrying on in the face of such difficulties. I know this first month in particular people seemed a little casual about it because we all enjoyed the time off. But everyone got their paycheck last Friday, so we’re all feeling it a lot more at home today than we did last month.
As far as we can tell, the furlough will continue for another 16 months. There is some discussion about one particular bargaining unit, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), having reached a tentative agreement with the Department of Personnel Administration and the Governor. Among the provisions of the agreement is that furlough days for those employees would be reduced to one a month. However, until such time as that Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) has been ratified by the employees, approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, it remains tentative.
My article is going to be a little shorter this time than it has been in the past—I want to stay with just the big picture issues and recap them again for you:
Based on the furloughs and the budget, we are going to reprioritize work to ensure that we’re working on the most important tasks and might be moving some deadlines around to reflect the new priorities. As some aspects of the budget don’t become final until after the special elections in March and May, we will keep you posted on any new developments.
For now, we need to be proud of what we’re doing. There’s a lot of fear about the economy that we are all experiencing. But when we work together, like we have done, the right things will happen. Continuing to do our jobs well under tough circumstances is the best way to exert control over an uncontrollable situation. So I would encourage you to continue that focus as we go into March. I know that a lot of you will be having discussions with your families about the paychecks you received at the end of the month. We’re going to have to get through that, but our strength is that we will do it together.