Nestled within Gov. Jerry Brown's program-slashing budget proposal lies a $63 million request to update and replace the Caltrans car fleet with vehicles that comply with California's clean air regulations, an expenditure [PDF] that the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office thinks is imprudent.
Brown has cut state employee car usage, taxpayer-funded cell phones and official trinkets to address a $25 billion budget gap. The governor has also proposed larger changes such as eliminating California's redevelopment agencies and slashing government employee salaries, ideas that have generally been met with support from the analyst's office.
The administration claims the Caltrans vehicle provision is necessary in order to comply with various rules set out by the Air Resources Board. But the analyst's office is skeptical of the regulations and has recommended rejecting the proposal:
In prior years, we have raised concerns about Caltrans' compliance with ARB regulations. ... We found that the cost of Caltrans' compliance with a particular ARB regulation was significantly higher than the ARB had estimated when it evaluated the costs and benefits of the regulation. ...
We continue to think that there may be options available to the Legislature to reduce or delay the costs associated with Caltrans' compliance with ARB regulations. However, we are still in the process of working with the administration to identify such potential savings.
In its 2009-10 budget analysis series on transportation [PDF], the analyst's office noted that the Air Resources Board had originally estimated that all state agencies would have to spend $60 million over multiple years to retrofit diesel vehicles with a filter that would reduce emissions. In 2009, Caltrans estimated that this repair alone would cost the agency $240 million.
According to the same document, Caltrans and the Air Resources Board disagree about what exactly must be done to the vehicles to keep them in compliance. The board claims that retrofitting or replacing the vehicles is not necessary because the changes could be deemed technologically infeasible and therefore exempt from the regulations.
This is the third consecutive year the analyst's office has recommended the Legislature order Caltrans and the Air Resources Board to find a more cost-effective approach for meeting air quality regulations.
The governor's revised budget proposal is scheduled to be released in mid-May.