Nicole Goehring, Government Affairs Director of the Northern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, just provided me with this report (below) about Assemblywoman Diane Harkey‘s failed proposal to the California’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee (Senate web site, Assembly web site) at its March 13, 2013 meeting to audit the $68-203 billion California High-Speed Rail Project, the most expensive public works project in history.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is requiring construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California as a condition of working on the first construction segment from Madera to Fresno.
Read Assemblywoman Harkey’s request for audit here: 2013-105: Audit Request of California High-Speed Rail Authority – Construction Package 1. It states the following motivation:
Ensuring that the Authority has proper policies, protocols, and resources in place to manage its contractors prior to breaking ground is critical for protecting passenger safety and controlling costs. Missteps during this early planning period could imperil the project for decades with defective construction, expensive litigation, massive cost overruns and lengthy project delays. An active and prominent role for the State Auditor during these crucial months could ultimately save lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.
The request was co-signed by numerous Republican state legislators (including Dan Logue, whose signature was added late and is not on the version linked above).
From: Nicole Goehring, Government Affairs Director, Northern California Chapter, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC)
On March 13, I attended the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) meeting. The Joint Legislative Audit Committee is statutorily charged with ascertaining facts and making reports and recommendations to the Legislature concerning the State, its agencies, departments and political subdivisions of the State. In carrying out these duties, the JLAC reviews requests for audits from any of the 120 members of the Legislature and approves those requests that are a good use of the resources of the State Auditor.
Six audits were on the meeting agenda for consideration. The committee approved the first two audits without objection: Salton Sea Restoration fund and Military Veterans Employment. Then came Assemblywoman Harkey’s request for an audit of the California High Speed Rail Project, specifically the contracting practices authority given to California High Speed Rail Authority Executive Director Jeff Morales, risk management practices, and land acquisition for the California High-Speed Rail project.
Assemblywoman Harkey said that the California High Speed Rail Authority would spend $1.1 million per day on the project when the land acquisition starts. In addition, the California High-Speed Rail Authority still has not presented a business plan.
Senator Cathleen Galgiani and committee chairman (Assemblyman) Adam Gray objected to the proposed audit because two audits were previously approved in 2009 and 2011. They questioned what could be learned from another audit. Assemblyman Tim Donnelly spoke strongly in favor of the audit. He said the project needs a permanent chaperone and this particular use of public funds needs to be audited every step of the way.
Paul Guerrero from the Associated Professionals and Contractors of California and I spoke in favor of the audit. I also spoke against the government-mandated Project Labor Agreement that contractors must sign with unions to work on Construction Package 1. My testimony can be heard 1:17:47 into the hearing.
Speaking in opposition to the audit – and in favor of Project Labor Agreements – were Cesar Diaz from the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California; Scott Wetch representing the California Coalition of Utility Employees, California State Association of Electrical Workers, and Western States Council of Sheet Metal Workers; Keith Dunn of the Association for California High Speed Trains (representing design, engineering, and construction management firms); and a representative from Our Train: Young Voters for California High-Speed Rail.
In the end, the California Joint Legislative Audit Committee rejected (on an 8-3 party-line vote – Democrats opposed, Republicans in support) Assemblywoman Diane Harkey’s request for an audit of the California High-Speed Rail Project.
I will note that the rejection of this audit request is consistent with the comments of Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal at the February 26, 2013 high-speed rail oversight hearing claiming that there was no interest in rehashing old controversies. Supporters of the project are intent on portraying the numerous problems with the project as resolved and in the past.