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Underfunding threatens state highway jobs

February 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
California's budget crisis continues, and it could mean tens of thousands of jobs lost. Local highway traffic could also feel the impact.Nearly a hundred public-works projects across the state are coming to a grinding halt. The state's budget impasse has hampered California's ability to buy more bonds that pay for these projects. Seventy-thousand jobs statewide could vanish.

"The state is saying, as of this week, they can't guarantee the contractors that are working here today are going to get paid," said Jim Earp, a member of the California Transportation Commission.

These are projects that Californians approved back in 2006 that could help ease traffic, like adding a carpool lane on the 405 Freeway, between the 10 and 101.

Caltrans is hoping local governments can front the money to keep the projects going, but they're struggling too. Most just don't have the reserves.

"California counties are in the same situation the state finds itself in," said Paul McIntosh, executive director of the California State Association of Counties. "Our revenues are all down."

With no avenues of funding left, workers worry they'll have to join the ranks of the unemployed. California's jobless rate is already pushing 10 percent.

"I'll lose my house," said construction worker Arnold Mendoza. "You think I can go find another job? No!"

After state leaders worked on a budget deal this weekend, they took a holiday break for Lincoln's Birthday.

Calif. State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg thinks they can vote on a compromise this week, but lawmakers have been saying that for more than three months.

Absent a budget deal, California's transportation community has pinned a lot of hope on the passage of President Obama's stimulus package. Some of that money is for public-works projects.

"We've been talking: 'We're on the edge of the cliff.' But for this industry, we're actually over the cliff. We're just trying to break the fall. Hopefully that federal money will come in," said Jim Earp.


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