Under the Dome

Senate gas tax bill would cut 500 DOT jobs - about 4 percent of agency

In a Senate bill that would modify the state's gas tax rate is an $8 million-plus savings plan achieved by cutting 500 occupied jobs and 50 vacancies in the N.C. Department of Transportation.

The bill was signed off on by two Senate committees Tuesday and was given preliminary approval by the full Senate on Wednesday. It is expected to get final approval on Thursday.

It puts layoff priority on DOT administration staffers, maintenance jobs that could be outsourced and positions that allow the agency to reduce management layers.

It sets a March 1 date for the eliminations and tells DOT leadership to notify all affected employees "as soon as practicable."

It would also direct DOT to cut at least 50 vacancies or use lapsed salaries to meet savings goals.

It's a proposal to help recover an estimated $33 million in lost transportation money if the General Assembly reduces the state's gas tax from 37.5 cents to 35 cents this year.

Sen. Bill Rabon, a Brunswick County Republican and Senate Finance co-chairman who sponsored the bill, said he believes the staffing losses could be "absorbed very well" by the agency, which has about 13,000 employees, without taking money away from repairing bridges and repaving roads.

Losing 500 jobs equates to about 4 percent of the state agency's workforce.

DOT Chief of Staff Bobby Lewis said the General Assembly has required the agency to outsource more work but the department has been slow to do so.

"Just with that, I think that would get us into compliance with current legislation," Lewis said.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Randolph County Republican, too noted the mandate.

"They could do this without a lot of harm at all," he said of the cuts.

The State Employees Association of North Carolina routinely objects to transferring public services to the private sector.

"We would urge the General Assembly to untie these positions from the gas tax," said Toni Davis, SEANC communications director. Maintenance work the bill eyes for outsourcing includes pavement preservation, winter weather treatments, roadside environmental activities and preconstruction.

Davis said that North Carolinians get the best value with state employees.

"We do not have shareholders that we answer to. We answer to the taxpayers of North Carolina," she said. "So our employees are going to do the job as best as they can at the most efficient price point they can. No private contractor can make that same claim when they have to go back and report to shareholders."

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