Politics & Government

Senator pulls his bill to force NCDOT layoffs

After a Senate committee endorsed a bill ordering the layoffs of 81 state Department of Transportation workers, Transportation Secretary Tony Tata persuaded the sponsor Wednesday to withdraw the legislation, a Tata spokesman said.

The bill sponsor, Sen. Bill Rabon, was not immediately available for comment. The DOT spokesman announced the agreement but indicated that some layoffs might be coming.

Senate Bill 539 was linked to last year’s budget law, which ordered DOT to use private contractors for most of the work previously done by employees involved in planning and acquiring land and environmental permits for road and bridge construction.

Rabon, a Brunswick County Republican, said DOT has fallen far short of the outsourcing targets required by the law.

“The last budget act that we passed directed the Department of Transportation to reduce its workforce,” Rabon said Wednesday at a Senate Finance Committee meeting. “They’ve been a little remiss in following that direction.

“This is a gentle nudge that says we mean business,” he said. “When we pass the law, we expect the department to comply with that law in a timely fashion. It gives them a drop-dead date to do what they’ve been told to do in the last budget.”

Rabon’s bill directed DOT to cut the jobs of 81 unnamed full-time workers. Most of the positions are in DOT’s Right of Way and Project Development and Environmental Analysis units, which together have about 600 employees.

The budget law ordered DOT this year to outsource 70 percent of all work done in the pre-construction and technical services units, 50 percent of roadway design work, and 65 percent of project development and environmental analysis work. The right-of-way unit was directed to increase its outsourcing by 5 percent.

DOT Deputy Secretary Mike Charbonneau said Tata had been trying to work out the best way to comply with the budget law requirement. He indicated that Rabon and DOT may have agreed to terms after the committee endorsed his bill.

“Sec. Tata spoke with Senator Rabon late this afternoon and Rabon agreed to pull the bill,” Charbonneau said by email Wednesday. “NCDOT has been working for months on the right formula to help meet the required outsourcing targets while continuing to serve the citizens of North Carolina. As a result of that hard work NCDOT has developed a pending Reduction in Force (RIF) plan to help meet those goals.”

It wasn’t clear what Tata did to change Rabon’s mind. DOT officials and legislative staff members had worked out the 81 jobs that could be cut to meet the outsourcing requirements.

“The elimination and outsourcing of 81 positions in the governor’s budget and Senate Bill 539 are the result of teamwork and conversations throughout the department and General Assembly,” Charbonneau said earlier in the day.