California's transportation department plans to swell its staff by 10 percent over the next five years, adding 2,000 employees to help it execute projects funded by the new gasoline tax. Those positions run the gamut from maintenance to architects and engineers.
It has so many jobs on such a tight time line that the department is trying to cut through some of the state civil service rules that govern who it can promote.
Last week, it tried to wipe out a promotion list for senior engineers that was made up exclusively of internal candidates so it could more quickly hire from a different promotion list that included candidates from outside the organization.
In its request to the State Personnel Board, the department said that it will have a challenging time making a case to expand its headcount if it’s too slow filling its current vacancies.
“To justify these additional position resources it is essential that all departmental resources are filled,” the state Human Resources Department wrote on behalf of Caltrans.
Caltrans didn’t get everything it wanted.
It struck a deal with the Professional Engineers in California Government – the union that represents transportation engineers – that would let the department promote from both sources without throwing away the roster of eligible internal candidates.
The union, the department and the members of the State Personnel Board all stressed that Caltrans has to move fast to take advantage of Senate Bill 1, the law that hikes gas taxes over a decade to fund transportation projects.
"The governor's directive to get SB 1 dollars out is imperative. We don’t want to disadvantage the department," State Personnel Board member Richard Costigan said.
Caltrans began escalating its hiring efforts a year ago, first to replace retiring workers and then to prepare for the gas tax funding. The tax and other fees will deliver about $5.2 billion a year for transportation over the next decade.
"SB 1 is an all-hands-on-deck moment," said Ted Toppin, a lobbyist who represents PECG.
California Republican leaders and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association are campaigning to repeal the gas tax, although their efforts have not yet qualified to reach voters as an initiative.
Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, thinks Caltrans is getting ahead of itself with its hiring spree. He wrote a bill three years ago that would have compelled the department to hire more private sector contractors rather than public employees.
"They need to outsource," Moorlach said. State budget restrictions forbid Caltrans from outsourcing more than 10 percent of engineering work. "You don’t even know if the tax is going to be permanent until November. These (new employees) will be the ones you lay off, theoretically."
The construction industry and labor unions last week released a study that argued the new gas tax would have wide-ranging benefits over the next decade, supporting about 68,200 jobs each year. The study by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association said about 14,000 jobs would be in transportation and warehousing, 7,500 in services, 4,300 in retail, and 3,900 in real estate and housing.
To get started on a Caltrans application and learn about the state's hiring process, go to www.jobs.ca.gov.
Stay in the know about state workers, unions and public pensions. Subscribe to The Bee.