Tag Archive for Vacaville Reporter

$348 Million Measure Q for Solano Community College: Yes on Q Campaign Fails to Submit Latest Legally-Required Campaign Finance Report

UPDATE: The Yes on Q campaign for Solano Community College District submitted its overdue Form 460 today (Monday, October 29, 2012). Better late than never.

As of October 20, 2012, the campaign has raised over $200,000. Big contributions between October 1 and October 20 include $15,000 from Swinerton (a construction management firm) and $10,000 from MuniBond Solar, run by someone named Steve Nielsen, which has collaborated with companies such as SunPower Corp to secure “Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds” (QECBs) for several California educational districts. (An executive with SunPower Corp also contributed $1000.) As shown in this May 2, 2012 Solano Community College Financial and Budget Planning Advisory Council meeting, MuniBond Solar wants a relationship with Solano Community College District.

Other contributors include the usual suspects: architects, construction trade unions, and unionized construction associations that look forward to a Project Labor Agreement.

Yesterday (October 26, 2012) I went to the Solano County Registrar of Voters office to obtain the paper copies of the Form 460 reports that the “Yes on Q – Solano College” campaign must legally submit to the county. These reports are meant to inform the public about campaign receipts and expenditures. The staff there was quite professional and helpful, but I left knowing that the Yes on Q campaign was breaking the law and getting away with it.

Measure Q asks Solano County voters to let the Solano Community College District Governing Board borrow $348 million for construction by selling bonds to institutional investors. Solano County taxpayers must pay this money back to the investors – with interest! It will cost at least $500 million – perhaps more if the district is lured into selling Capital Appreciation Bonds.

The Solano Community College District Governing Board wants to borrow $346 million by selling bonds

The Solano Community College District Governing Board wants to borrow $348 million by selling bonds.

The Solano College governing board voted 6-1 in 2003 and 2004 to require its construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of working on projects funded by bonds authorized by the $124.5 million Measure G, barely approved by 55.6% of Solano County voters in November 2002. A majority of governing board members are likely to again make a deal to give unions control of additional projects funded by Measure Q. Project Labor Agreements raise costs and cut competition, as shown by the failure of the Project Labor Agreement pilot project at Solano Community College in 2005. (No one on the board cared at the time.)

The Yes on Q campaign finance report for the period from October 1 to October 20 was due by October 25, but it was not at the Solano County Registrar of Voters on October 26. After further inquiry, I learned this afternoon that an official of the Solano County Registrar of Voters had contacted the treasurer of the “Yes on Q – Solano College” campaign to check on the status and was told the report would not be turned in until Monday or Tuesday of next week.

So much for openness and transparency for citizens as they fill out their absentee ballots this weekend. I guess the local newspapers won’t be informing the voters in their Sunday editions who is giving to the Yes on Q campaign and who is getting from the Yes on Q campaign. Does anyone care?

I did get a copy of the campaign finance report of the “Yes on Q Solano College” for the period from July 1, 2012 to September 30, 2012. Here are a few items of interest:

1. This Campaign Is a Sitting Duck for Accusations of “Pay-to-Play”

Here’s a list of all of the campaign contributors through September 30, 2012, with links to the company web sites, the amounts contributed, and the business interest of the contributor.

Piper Jaffray Investment Bank/Bond Broker $25,000
Kitchell Construction Construction Manager for Solano College Measure G $25,000
RBC Capital Markets Investment Bank/Bond Broker $18,000
Steinberg Architects Architect $10,000
VBN Architects Architect $10,000
[Sheet Metal Workers Local Union No. 104] Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund Construction trade union-affiliated Labor-Management Cooperation Committee $5,000
Stradling, Yocca, Carlson and Rauth Bond counsel – worked before with Solano College on bond sales $3,500
Keenan and Associates Insurance broker for school districts $2,500
B&L Properties Property holding company in Fairfield $2,500
Dannis Woliver Kelley Law firm for school & college districts $2,500
The Lew Edwards Group Political consulting firm in Oakland, works to pass bond measures $1,000
LPAS Architect $1,000
Roy Stutzman Consulting Financial consulting for school & college districts $1,000
Student Insurance Insurance company for school districts $1,000
Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin Metz & Associates Polling firm for political campaigns $500
Bricklayers and Allied Craftsworkers Local Union No. 3 Construction trade union $200
Sarah Chapman Solano College Board Member $100
Rosemary Thurston Solano College Board Member $100
Anne Marie Young Solano College Board Member $100
James Dekloe Solano College Faculty Member $100
TOTAL $109,100

There’s very little financial participation in this campaign from anyone in Solano County, but there is much interest from various professional service firms that do business with Solano Community College District and/or want business if voters approve Measure Q and let the Governing Board sell $348 million in bonds. I guess that’s how the world works, but taxpayers will pay the bill.

2. Underwriters Among Top Contributors – These Firms Get Fees When Selling Bonds

After the investment bank/bond underwriter Piper Jaffray got smacked around along with other financial service firms earlier this year about contributing to campaigns for bond measures for which it subsequently became the underwriter for those bonds, I figured that firm would back off from the practice. I was wrong.

Piper Jaffray $25,000 campaign contribution to Yes on Measure Q Solano College November 2012

Piper Jaffray $25,000 campaign contribution to Yes on Measure Q – Solano College (November 2012)

Piper Jaffray is tied with Kitchell Construction – the construction management firm for Solano Community College’s Measure G (2002) program – for making the largest contribution to the Yes on Q campaign.

3. Another Labor-Management Cooperation Committee Contributes to a Campaign.

Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund - $5000 Contribution to the Yes on Measure Q Solano College

Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund – $5000 Contribution to Yes on Measure Q Solano College

I snickered when I saw this one: how many people in Solano County know about the Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund? There’s only one place on the web where you’ll read about labor-management cooperative trusts, and you’re reading it now. These trusts are arcane entities authorized by the obscure Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, a law signed by President Jimmy Carter and implemented by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. There are no federal or state regulations specifically addressed toward these trusts, and these trusts do not have any reporting requirements to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards.

This committee receives employer payments as indicated in the Master Labor Agreement negotiated between the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) and the Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local Union No. 104. Here are references to the Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund in their Master Labor Agreement. It says the fund pays to replace stolen tools, but says nothing about political contributions, of course. Note also that employer payments to the Bay Area Industry Promotion Fund are incorporated as part of “Other” into the State of California’s government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”).

4. If Yes on Q Raised $109,100 by September 30, 2012, How Was It Spent?

Solano County newspapers have noted the lack of visible campaign activity in support of Measure Q. In fact, this situation apparently deprived Yes on Q of an endorsement from the Vacaville Reporter newspaper:

The Reporter Editorial Board likes the vision and very much wants to support it. But board members have qualms about this bond. The impact of the state’s fiscal mess has meant the college can’t afford to operate the programs it has now. Is it wise to add new programs before the state’s budget is under control?

There are also qualms about the way the bond campaign has been mishandled. In July, when the Editorial Board supported trustees’ decision to put the bond on the ballot, it was with the caveat that an aggressive campaign be mounted to educate the community about its need.

Instead, the campaign has been lackluster and late, not ratcheting up until after mail-in ballots were already out. Where are the trustees, who can speak as individuals in support of the measure and who should have lined up supporters to drive it? Where are the other public agencies and private businesses that stand to benefit from these plans? Where is the faculty, whose union put on a get-out-the-vote drive for Propositions 30 and 32 without even mentioning Measure Q in its publicity? Does the lack of organization in the campaign reflect a lack of organization and follow-through by campus leaders?

I drove on the major thoroughfares of Vacaville, Fairfield, and Vallejo on October 26. I only saw THREE signs supporting Measure Q – all close to the entrance to the main Solano Campus campus in Fairfield.

An elusive Yes on Q campaign sign in Solano County.

An elusive Yes on Q campaign sign in Solano County.

Not that I put much value on campaign signs stuck in public areas, but I would have expected more for a campaign that already had over $100,000 by the end of September. This lack of visibility is so pitiful that it was tied with the three No on Q signs I saw in Solano County. That campaign is a small, committed group of informed local taxpayer activists with very little money to spend.

Say "No" to $348 Million Bond - No on Q - Taxed Enough Already!

Say “No” to $348 Million Bond – No on Q – Taxed Enough Already!

The September 30 campaign report for Yes on Q shows about $25,000 spent on consultants, slate mailers, some apparent development of signs and mailers, and people at phone banks. It will be interesting to see how the remaining money was spent, provided the Yes on Q campaign ever submits its campaign finance reports.

Solano County’s Measure Q Looks Vulnerable to Defeat: Will Voters Refuse to Authorize Solano County Community College to Borrow $348 Million Through Bond Sales?

What happens when you live in an elite socio-intellectual enclave where everyone agrees with your worldview? You’re shocked when you discover ordinary people who disagree with your plan to take and use their money. I suspect that’s the reason why Measure Q in Solano County (in the San Francisco Bay Area, stretching toward Sacramento) is now vulnerable to defeat.

Measure Q authorizes the Solano County Community College District to borrow $348 million for construction by selling bonds to wealthy individuals and institutional investors. Solano County taxpayers will need to pay this $348 million back, plus interest payments. (It’s not free money.)

In November 2002, 55.6% voters in Solano County barely approved Measure G, which authorized the Solano Community College District to borrow $124.5 million for construction by selling bonds. (The threshold for approval was 55%.) The governing board then voted 6-1 in April 2004 to force contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council to work on Solano County Community College District projects funded by proceeds from bond sales authorized by Measure G. This union deal received ample news media attention and public criticism.

Despite these warning signs, the people now pushing Measure Q obviously were unprepared for aggressive opposition. The Yes on Q campaign is apparently relying on rudimentary campaign web sites (www.solanocollegeyesonq.com and www.facebook.com/YesOnQSolanoCollege) and endorsements from local politicians to win over Solano County voters. The Vacaville Reporter criticized the backers of Measure Q in an October 13 editorial:

Where in the world is the campaign for Solano Community College’s Measure Q? And what does it say that the college faculty this week sponsored a voter registration drive and campus forum on statewide ballot measures but not, according to its press release, on the local bond?

Perhaps this lack of action from unions explains why Measure Q supporters are pressuring chambers of commerce in cities such as Vallejo to support this tax increase. (See Chamber Seeks to Avoid Controversy on Measure Q – Vallejo Times-Herald – October 14, 2012).

The identities of the big backers of Measure Q are no surprise: it’s the Napa and Solano Counties Central Labor Council, with the Napa-Solano Building and Construction Trades Council and its various construction trade unions.

I think Solano County’s top union officials will need to call some bond brokers and other financial services firms in New York City and get some more money for mailers and KUIC radio commercials, quick! In the meantime, here’s what’s happening in the campaign against the $348 million (plus interest) Measure Q:

According to an October 11 article in the Vacaville Reporter (Solano County Taxpayers Association Issues Their Proposition Recommendations), the Solano County Taxpayers Association opposes Measure Q because it is “a 40-year dream for the college that includes buildings that were listed on the previous bond that is still unpaid.”

The Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group is opposing Measure Q, as reported in Opponents Mobilize Against Local Tax Measures – Fairfield Daily Republic – October 4, 2012. As reported in an October 20, 2012 article in the Fairfield Daily Republic (Aging, Limited Facilities at Heart of Solano College Bond Effort), “opponents and Trustee Catherine Ritch have questioned the timing of the bond, saying there are still aspects of the planning that need to be done. A formal opposition was recently formed to Measure Q by the Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group, which said the bond isn’t specific enough and some of the projects won’t directly benefit students.”

Here’s what the Central Solano Citizen/Taxpayer Group posted on its web site about Measure Q:

Make no mistake: This is a huge tax! For what purpose? We start by asking, What did the district do with the $125 million bond measure passed 10 years ago? Why weren’t “earthquake/fire safety code” issues taken care of then? Next, Why are computers and office equipment in the bond? Such things will be obsolete and discarded in a few years; but we’ll be paying for them for decades. Now look at the objectives listed. Notice how vague they are. No specific projects. No timetable. Measure Q is a blank check for almost anything the board wants to do. Finally, we’re still paying for the last bond, and will be for another 20 years. Measure Q will double or triple what you’re paying now, and for 40 years. Everyone will pay: individuals, businesses, even renters when the landlord adds the tax – yes, it’s a tax – into your rent. Remember, Solano Community College was on probation for administrative issues – like accounting for funds – and is still on the “warning” list. Don’t you have doubts about handing over so much money? Don’t you think we’re taxed more than enough already? Vote NO on Measure Q.

On October 17, the 6-1 tax-and-spend majority on the Governing Board of the Solano Community College District was stunned when someone actually showed up in their lair in Vallejo to speak out against their agenda. Here is a report from Eric Christen of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction:

The meeting began at 6:30 p.m., and other than the Trustees, the room contained only a few staff and a reporter for the college newspaper. This is how entities like this prefer it: no public oversight and never having to answer to the public for their actions or lack thereof. They just want your tax dollars with zero accountability. Government defined.

Last night, however, these Trustees were held accountable to the public at least for 3 minutes while I explained in great detail why it is they did not deserve to be given any more tax dollars in the form of construction bond money.

I reminded them that in 2004 the Solano Community College Governing Board placed a union-crafted Project Labor Agreement (PLA) on Measure G bond work. The $124.5 million Measure G had been passed by voters in 2002 with no hint that a controversial PLA would be used. The PLA vote occurred despite vigorous opposition from local contractors and contractor associations such as ours.

For the new Trustees who weren’t on the board at that time, I explained how PLAs force workers to pay union dues, pay into union pension plans, be hired through a union hiring hall, and explicitly forbid non-union apprentices from working at all. I did thank them in that because of their actions, and others, PLAs had become so controversial that they have been banned in 11 entities in California including the City of San Diego, where in June citizens voted 58%-42% to forbid them.

I also reminded then that at the time of their vote in 2003 the College’s own construction manager told the board a PLA would add 5-15% to the cost of any project. Last summer, I further explained, the most comprehensive study on Project Labor Agreements ever conducted was released by the National University System Institute for Policy Research and found PLAs add 13-15% to the cost of a project. What that means for SCCD was their $124.5 million bond was reduced by up to $24 million in value.

Finally I stated that SCCD now wants another bond, this time for $348 million. The reason? Measure G wasn’t large enough to cover their needs. I asked them if they thought they could have used that extra $24 million they wasted under a PLA.

I left them with the promise that my editorial that ran in the county’s newspapers (We Deserve the Entire Story on Measure QVallejo Times-Herald – October 13, 2012 and PLAs a Waste of MoneyVacaville Reporter – October 14, 2012) was just the opening salvo in what would be an escalating campaign to educate voters about why they need to think twice before giving any more money to this college. Two of the three board members who were on the board in 2003 and who voted for the PLA (Honeychurch and McCaffery) and who are still on the board were less than thrilled to have me there calling them out.

The Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction issued a press release on October 17 in conjunction with this public comment: Solano Community College District Trustees Being Called Out Tonight About Their Plans to Place New $350 Million Construction Bond Under a Union-Friendly Project Labor Agreement.

Finally, a professor in the Solano Community College engineering and physics department is perplexed by the college board’s logic in trying to borrow another $348 million for construction: Concerns About Measure QVacaville Reporter – October 14, 2012 and Measure Q IssuesVallejo Times-Herald – October 10, 2012. Give her a Profile in Courage award.