Tag Archive for Cities Vying for Local Control on November Ballot

Bakersfield Becomes Latest of California’s 121 Charter Cities to Free Itself from Government-Mandated Construction Wage Rates (So-Called “Prevailing Wage”)

As I anticipated in my July 2, 2012 article Prediction: An Explosion of California Cities Freeing Themselves from Costly State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate Laws, the past three months have seen a flood of California cities seeking voter approval for charters, as well as existing charter cities establishing their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”) for purely municipal construction (or private projects that receive government assistance only from the city).

These recent www.CalWatchdogs.com articles summarize what’s happening in California: Push for Charter Cities Enrages Unions and Cities Vying for Local Control on November Ballot.

Through its July 2012 decision in State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, ALF-CIO v. City of Vista, the California Supreme Court affirmed the right of California’s 121 charter cities to set their own prevailing wage policies for municipal construction and thereby free themselves from the costly, complicated, and nonsensical way that the State of California calculates state-mandated construction wage rates and defines public works.

For comprehensive information, see the 92-page guidebook Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?

Bakersfield is the latest charter city to establish its own policy concerning government-mandated construction wage rates. Hoping to sustain its economic boom and resist union-backed public policies dragging down economic growth and job creation in the state and other cities, the Bakersfield City Council voted 4-2 (with one city council member recusing himself) on October 17, 2012 to set its own policy. Here is the city’s agenda item description: Resolution exempting the City from prevailing wage requirements for locally funded public works contracts except where required by law.

Here’s a July 17, 2009 video report on KBAK Channel 29 (CBS) news featuring a comment from me about the need for the City of Bakersfield to free itself from state-mandated construction wage rates set based on collective bargaining agreements for urban areas: Prevailing Wage Wastes Tax Dollars in Bakersfield.

It was reported to me that unions brought busloads of people from Los Angeles to pack the council chamber, but the city council majority was not fooled and not intimidated. Here’s news coverage, with excerpts (bold highlights are mine):

Council Shakes Off Prevailing Wage Requirement – Bakersfield Californian – October 17, 2012

City staff also informally surveyed local contractors and were told that without the prevailing wage requirement, project costs could be cut by 3.5 percent to 30 percent

But just as many people spoke in favor of the resolution as against it, saying it would result in more efficient use of taxpayer money and wouldn’t lead to unfair construction wages or lower quality in projects.

“As a city council member, I have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers and the community to utilize funds with care and strive to provide the best value possible,” Weir said in an email earlier Wednesday. “With the approval of tonight’s resolution, we will be able to build better parks with more amenities, increase the amount of street repaving, and provide other benefits without additional cost to the taxpayers. To not pursue this opportunity would be a breach of my responsibility.”

Councilmembers added a late amendment to the resolution as a step to better protect against unqualified contractors bidding for city work. Before the resolution passed, projects valued at $1 million or more required that contractors be “pre-qualified” for their suitability to do the type of project at hand before being allowed to submit a bid. With the resolution, that threshold was lowered to $250,000.

Contractors, Unions Object to City Prevailing Wage Proposal – Bakersfield Californian –  October 16, 2012

City Manager Alan Tandy said savings for the city means more work can be done. Taking an example of 20 percent savings, he said, “If we save 20 percent on resurfacing a street, we can resurface 20 percent more streets. We have more that need resurfacing than we have money to resurface.”

Council Members Tackle High Speed Rail, Prevailing Wages in Heated Debate – KGET Channel 17 (NBC) news – October 18, 2012

Congratulations to the Bakersfield City Council. Under pressure and threats, they refused to payoff the unionsCalifornia Political News and Views – October 19, 2012

Will This Charter City Movement Lead to Genuine (or Any?) Prevailing Wage Reform?

Perhaps union officials in Bakersfield are realizing that “prevailing wage” as calculated under state law and “public works” as defined under state law are so outrageous that cities are intent on escaping them. Bakersfield’s own Assemblywoman Shannon Grove introduced two thoughtful and reasonable prevailing wage reform bills (Assembly Bill 987 and Assembly Bill 988) to make state-mandated government wage rates only apply to legitimate government projects and be more reflective of actual local market rates, but union lobbyists opposed these bills and Democrats defeated them in committee in January 2012.

In fact, as I reported in my April 20, 2012 article State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate Requirements Remain on California Projects Worth $1001 to $2000, union lobbyists and Legislative Democrats wouldn’t even support Assemblywoman Grove’s Assembly Bill 1958, which made two very modest changes to the state’s prevailing wage laws. That bill increased the project cost threshold for coverage from $1000 to $2000 to match the $2000 threshold set by the federal prevailing wage law called the Davis-Bacon Act. It also indexed the threshold to the same measure of inflation that the Democrats want to use for indexing the state minimum wage.

There WILL be a day when unions no longer control the California State Legislature and the Governor’s office. In the meantime, charter cities are exercising their own right to determine their economic destiny, and many of them don’t want to follow the direction of the State of California to inevitable bankruptcy.

California Local Election Report: Three Cities Seek Voter Approval for Home-Rule Charters

Today’s www.CalWatchdog.com (October 16, 2012) has a second article in a series about the 121 charter cities in California and the attempts of additional cities to enact charters and free their municipal affairs from the costly mandates of the California State Legislature. (See Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?) I am quoted in this article as well as in the first article.

Cities Vying for Local Control on November Ballotwww.CalWatchdog.com – October 16, 2012

But the biggest benefit, according to Kevin Dayton, CEO of Dayton Public Policy Institute, an employment and labor specialist and charter city expert, would be not having to pay prevailing wages on local public works projects. In a recent interview, Dayton said that labor union prevailing wage rates do not accurately reflect the actual industry rates, nor do they accurately reflect the construction industry in all areas within the state…

But the rational discussion about cost effectiveness has turned into an all-out assault. According to Dayton, unions have steamrolled right over smaller cities’ efforts to adopt charters. “Union leaders get very testy when someone points out that a charter city can establish its own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates,” Dayton said…

Also, see the first article in the series: Push for Charter Cities Enrages Unionswww.CalWatchdog.com – September 30, 2012

Three cities in California have proposed charters on the November 6, 2012 ballot for voters to approve. Two are medium-sized suburban cities and one is a small beach community. All three charters would give these cities the freedom to establish their own policies concerning government-mandated construction wage rates on purely municipal construction or private construction that gets any form of financial assistance from the city. Here’s the current status of each effort:

1. City of Costa Mesa (Orange County) – population 111,600

In November 2010, Costa Mesa voters elected a 4-1 majority on its city council that wanted to reduce the city’s budget deficit by cutting back on its workforce and contracting out services. Obviously this became a microcosm of the cataclysmic battle over the future of America: smaller government and lower taxes versus bigger government and higher taxes, or, to put it bluntly, free markets and minimalist government versus socialism. As the city council majority found its authority to manage municipal affairs continually suppressed by laws passed by the union-controlled California State Legislature, it decided to present a charter for voters to consider.

The city quickly earned national news media attention for taking on the public employee unions, which aggressively fought outsourcing. Its public meetings attracted every element of the Left intent on preserving and expanding the power and size of government. I have written about the Costa Mesa situation extensively; for more details, see Costa Mesa’s Bold and Meaningful Government Cost-Efficiency Plan on Hold Until November 6, When Citizens Vote on a Proposed Charter (Measure V) and for Three City Council Members.

2. City of Escondido (San Diego County) – population 146,032

Like in Costa Mesa, a 4-1 majority of the Escondido City Council wants to wrest the city from the costly mandates of the union-controlled California State Legislature and get more local control over the city’s budget issues. Opposing this move are unions and other leftist activists (see the Prop V section of the Escondido Democratic Club web site).

Unions tried a clever tactic to derail the charter proposal. As I wrote earlier, the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California engineered a lawsuit against the city based on the California Voting Rights Act of 2001; for more details, see Escondido City Council Votes 4-1 to Approve Proposed Charter for Voters to Consider on November Ballot and California’s Voting Rights Act of 2001: A Weapon for Unions.

3. Grover Beach (San Luis Obispo County) – population 13,275

City councils for a cluster of beach towns on the Central Coast (Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, and Grover Beach) have toyed with the idea of passing charters, but Grover Beach was the first to jump. As seen in Costa Mesa and Escondido, unions and certain factions of the Democrat Party are opposing Measure I-12.