Right-Sizing ODOT: Guest column by Matt Garrett
As the nation struggles through continued slow growth in the aftermath of the Great Recession, government agencies across the country continue to reduce their size to align expenditures with revenues. At ODOT, we’re blessed with a dedicated revenue source—the State Highway Fund—that has provided robust investment in Oregon’s transportation system, but we are by no means immune to the fiscal realities that other government agencies face.
Despite the prescribed funding that came to ODOT as a result of the 2009 Jobs and Transportation Act, revenues in the State Highway Fund are no longer sufficient to cover our costs. There are a number of factors that underlie this situation.
· Debt service on bonds issued to pay for capital construction programs—particularly the Oregon Transportation Investment Act (OTIA) and the Jobs and Transportation Act—will take a growing portion of ODOT’s State Highway Fund resources—about $200 million a year when all the bonds are sold.
· Personnel costs have grown at a rate faster than revenues.
Faced with revenues that are insufficient to cover our costs of doing business, ODOT is engaged in an initiative to reduce the agency’s footprint by 5 percent in the upcoming 2013-15 biennium.. We have already eliminated nearly 100 positions—about 2 percent of our total workforce—through attrition, which will save nearly $15 million in personnel costs in the 2013-15 biennium.
The business decision to right-size the agency has allowed ODOT to match the footprint of the agency with our mission and revenues and provided us the opportunity to closely review all of our activities to find more efficient ways of delivering services. In making these reductions, we have done our best to cut our headcount in ways that will minimize the impacts on the traveling public. For example, we’ve consolidated offices, which has allowed us to do the same work with fewer people. And we are able to reduce our project delivery staff, knowing that our highway construction program will fall off dramatically after 2014 once we’ve wrapped up the OTIA III State Bridge Program and the Jobs and Transportation Act projects are winding down.
I would be remiss if I tried to tell you that these cuts won’t have an impact on ODOT’s customers. While we’ll do our best to cover, we will inevitably see impacts in some areas, whether it’s longer wait times at DMV offices, deferred maintenance activities, or slower responses to crashes by our incident responders.
I wish I could say that this is the last round of cuts at ODOT, but my crystal ball is cloudy—and it may be storm clouds I see. The forces that are knocking our expenses out of whack with our revenues have shown few signs of relenting. So, like all other state agencies, ODOT will continue to look for ways we can continue to offer excellent service to the public even if we have fewer people to do the work.