State Auditor eyes California’s crumbling infrastructure in assessment of state

150 150 Matthew Grant Anson

(photo credit: Kai Schreiber)

Take an audit of California’s biggest threats and our crumbling infrastructure is bound to make the list, once the size of the problem is uncovered.

California’s State Auditor last week released its updated assessment of high-risk issues that loom over the state, and the failure to keep up with the state’s infrastructure needs made the cut.

“Maintaining and improving the State’s infrastructure remains high on our list of high-risk issues,” the report says. “The State’s investments in transportation and water supply and flood management infrastructure have not kept up with demands.”

The reason it’s important the State Auditor set its sights on infrastructure comes down to the very nature of the State Auditor. It’s an entity that probably doesn’t ring any bells for the average Californian, but it’s a very influential arm of the Legislature. The State Auditor is not only nonpartisan and independent, but it’s also the only entity that has, by statute, “full access to all records, accounts, correspondence, property or other files of state and local agencies, special districts, public contractors, and school districts.”

The report singles out the deterioration of transportation and water systems, both of which are critical to the state’s economy. The audit noted that the California Transportation Commission estimates that over the next ten years, the state will come up $290 billion short when it comes to adequately maintaining transportation infrastructure, vital for the movement of goods, services, and ourselves.

And things just keep getting worse: 25 percent of our roads were in fair or poor condition in 2011, compared to 21 percent in 2001.

Maintaining a reliable supply of electricity also made the danger list because of uncertainties surrounding being able to retrofit older plants and to meet renewable requirements. Additionally the state faces some exposure because we import about 30 percent of our electricity supply, making it more vulnerable to disruptions.

“Furthermore, although the state has made progress in updating its aging electricity infrastructure to better protect the environment and is currently on track to meet its renewable energy target by 2020, the supply of electricity remains critical to the State’s economy, and the shift in its production to sources and technologies that will have less impact on the environment is an important effort that we will continue to monitor as an area of high risk,” the report added.

The bottom line for the Auditor is there are signs that our current and future infrastructure needs are going to balloon even more if attention isn’t paid to them now.

California Forward’s own senior fiscal policy advisor Fred Silva agrees with the Auditor’s assessment: “The audit reminds us that there are significant threats to the overall state expenditure plan that will crowd out our ability to use existing resources to invest in infrastructure, which is why California Forward and the California Economic Summit are focusing on how to expand the sources of revenue that are beyond simply borrowing money.”


Matthew Grant Anson

All stories by: Matthew Grant Anson