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Kevin Dayton

Governor Brown Signs Union-Backed Senate Bill 7 and Continues Erosion of Constitutional Checks and Balances

What’s the point of having a constitution if the government punishes The People for exercising their rights guaranteed in it?

Article XI, Section 3 of the California Constitution gives the state’s 121 charter cities the authority to govern their own municipal affairs. In recent years, city councils have proposed charters and voters have approved charters in order to circumvent costly and unnecessary state mandates imposed by the California State Legislature on local governments. Many of these mandates are pushed into state law by union lobbyists.

In 2012 the California Supreme Court upheld a right practiced by dozens of charter cities. The court ruled that charter cities could establish their own policies concerning government-mandated wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”) for public projects funded exclusively with city funds and private projects getting city financial assistance.

To stifle this little local rebellion, State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Republican Senator Anthony Cannella introduced a bill in 2013 sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. Senate Bill 7 cuts off state construction funding for charter cities that set contracting policies that deviate from state-mandated prevailing wage laws.

On October 13, 2013, Governor Brown signed SB 7 into law, displaying the impressive political capabilities of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California under its aggressive new president.

Supporters of Senate Bill 7 say it “encourages” charter cities to abide by state prevailing wage law. Others suggest that the term “encourages” is somewhat Orwellian, as the term “punishes” would be more accurate.

This strategy should ring alarms among those Americans who see how the “progressive” movement is increasingly impatient and disdainful about the checks and balances inherent in republican constitutional government. One is reminded of the dissent in the June 28, 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning Obamacare: “[The] practice of attaching conditions to federal funds greatly increases federal power…This formidable power, if not checked in any way, would present a grave threat to the system of federalism created by our Constitution.”

This is the third time in three years Governor Brown has undermined federalism and the California Constitution by signing bills sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California to cut off funding for charter cities that exercise their home rule authority. Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 922 in 2011 and Senate Bill 829 in 2012 to cut off state construction funds to charter cities that prohibit requirements in city contracts for construction companies to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions. (Senate Bill 922 also outright nullified all bans on Project Labor Agreements in weaker general law cities and counties.)

Obviously union leaders seek to suppress defiant local governments trying to provide essential services to residents at a reasonable cost to taxpayers. These local governments aren’t submitting meekly to the costly economic ideology imposed from the state capitol.

The most effective way for unions and their political allies to end the resistance is by neutralizing or eliminating structural checks and balances of federalism in the California Constitution. In fact, it’s possible unions may try to qualify a statewide measure on the November 2016 presidential election ballot to repeal the section of the California Constitution authorizing cities to have charters. As shown during the costly November 2012 campaign to defeat a proposed charter in the City of Costa Mesa, public employee unions also despise charter city authority and would likely join the building trades unions in funding such a campaign.

By getting rid of city charters, unions would crush the local resistance and centralize authority under what they presume to be a permanent union-backed legislative supermajority and an endless dynasty of union-backed governors.

California Charter Cities That Will Need to Repeal Ordinances, Resolutions, or Policies to Avoid Deprivation of State Funding Under Senate Bill 7

  1. Adelanto
  2. Anaheim
  3. Arcadia
  4. Bakersfield
  5. Big Bear Lake
  6. Carlsbad
  7. Chula Vista
  8. Desert Hot Springs
  9. Dinuba
  10. El Cajon
  11. El Centro
  12. Exeter
  13. Fortuna
  14. Fresno
  15. Gilroy
  16. Indian Wells
  17. City of Industry
  18. Irwindale
  19. King City
  20. La Quinta
  21. Lemoore
  22. Lindsay
  23. Marysville
  24. Merced
  25. Modesto
  26. Mountain View (done 10/8/13)
  27. Needles
  28. Newport Beach
  29. Norco
  30. Oceanside
  31. Oroville
  32. Pacific Grove
  33. Palm Desert
  34. Palm Springs
  35. Palo Alto
  36. Pasadena
  37. Placentia
  38. Porterville
  39. Rancho Mirage
  40. San Diego (done 7/30/13)
  41. San Marcos
  42. Santa Maria
  43. Santee
  44. Shafter
  45. Solvang
  46. Sunnyvale
  47. Temple City
  48. Tulare City
  49. Victorville
  50. Visalia
  51. Vista
  52. Whittier


Article XI, Section 3 of the California Constitution

Senate Bill 7 (2013) – to be California Labor Code Section 1782

Information on Charters from League of California Cities (includes list of 121 charter cities)

State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO v. City of Vista et al. – California Supreme Court decision of July 2, 2012 upholding constitutional right of charter cities to establish their own policies concerning government-mandated wage rates for municipal construction contracts.

Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions? (3rd edition – Summer 2012) – the most comprehensive report ever published on California prevailing wage and charter city policies and an inspiration for advocates of fiscal responsibility and local control.

Senate Bill 922 (2011) and Senate Bill 829 (2012) – punishing charter cities with prohibitions on city contracts that mandate Project Labor Agreements.

ObamaCare U.S. Supreme Court decision with dissent (National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius) – dissent includes references to erosion of constitutional protections of structure, notably, the restraints imposed by federalism and separation of powers.

State-mandated prevailing wages for construction trades in all geographic regions of California

State Building & Construction Trades Council of California

Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.


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