Raleigh, N.C. — Senate Bill 539 is three sentences long, but it can be boiled down to one: Follow the law.
Specifically, the bill expresses the displeasure of state senators with what they describe as the state Department of Transportation's reticence to obey a directive in the 2014 budget to lay off certain employees and replace their work through outsourcing.
"They have been a little remiss in following that direction," Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, told the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday morning.
The bill now heads to the full Senate.
Rabon's bill directs the agency to find 81 filled, full-time positions to winnow. According to legislative staff, the bulk of those positions would be involved in right-of-way acquisition or environmental assessments.
Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, pointed out that Republican Gov. Pat McCrory was pushing a $1.5 billion transportation bond that would lead to a boom in road building.
"Do you think at this point we are premature for pushing this?" she asked.
Rabon said, "No. We could probably find a few more DOT workers we could live without."
DOT spokesman Mike Charbonneau said Transportation Secretary Tony Tata has spoken to lawmakers about downsizing his department.
"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. "In our effort to help meet the outsourcing goals mentioned in SB 539, NCDOT is evaluating positions and responsibilities to determine which services must be contained within the organization and which could possibly be outsourced."
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, raised a rhetorical eyebrow as he looked over the bill, wondering how much good it would do.
"Why do you have to pass a law to tell a state agency to follow what's already law, and if they've ignored one, why don't they ignore two?" Hise asked.
Rabon said that it would provide "a gently nudge" to DOT. "This is not the only thing we've found that they're not quite compliant with," he said.
Later in the day, Charbonneau said Tata had spoken with Rabon, who had agreed to back off his bill.
"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 plan to help meet those goals," Charbonneau wrote in an email.