Legislation calls for reports on NCDOT outsourcing after WBTV investigation


RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - The senate budget unveiled early Wednesday includes language that would require the North Carolina Department of Transportation to report
the cost of outsourcing it's work to private contractors.

The budget language comes months after a WBTV investigation into the practice by legislative Republicans to require increasingly more work at NCDOT to be outsourced to private engineering firms.

A review of campaign finance records found one powerful state senator, Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), accepted more than $100,000 in campaign contributions from companies that received more than $100 million in NCDOT contracts as a result of legislation he authored or pushed through the legislature.

In an interview with WBTV in February 2017, Rabon defended his push to privatize NCDOT's work as a cost-savings measure. Though, neither he nor any other lawmakers who supports increased outsourcing had any information to support that claim.

The legislature has required periodic reports from NCDOT as part of it's budget language setting specific outsourcing targets.

According to Rabon, none of the department's reports have ever included a cost comparison.

Previous story: Senator steers millions in NCDOT contracts while taking campaign cash

That has not prompted lawmakers to pause and try to answer that question before moving forward with requiring more outsourcing.

WBTV Investigates asked Rabon, "If you don't know whether or not this is actually saving money, why did you continue to increase the percent of private contractors over the last five years?"

"Because I'll go back to where we started. We believe that less government is good," Rabon said.

When pressed by WBTV Investigates on whether or not he had ever asked NCDOT to provide information that would confirm the outsourcing strategy, Rabon has pushed is the cheaper option, he couldn't provide a straight answer.

Rabon: "DOT has not given us any indication that we're wrong."
WBTV Investigates: "Have you asked that?"
Rabon: "We ask them to come before Oversight every year." 
WBTV Investigates: "Do you ask them, specifically, 'is this saving taxpayers money?'" 
Rabon: We ask them specifically to lay out their plans, show us what they've spent, how much in the private sector, how much in their sector—
WBTV Investigates: "But you've never asked if this is actually saving taxpayer money?"
Rabon: I don't think they can tell us

The new language, inserted into the transportation funding portion of the Senate's budget proposal, would require reports twice a year that, among other things, would attempt to put a price tag on the cost of having private contractors perform individual projects.

The proposal is far from certain. The Senate must first approve it's budget before the House of Representatives passes their own version. Once that is done, the two chambers will come together and negotiate a final budget compromise.

Legislative leaders have said they hope to be finished with the budget by the end of June 2017. The last legislative long session—when the biennial budget is drafted and approved—was in 2015 and lasted until September.

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