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
- Big Bear Lake
- Chula Vista
- Desert Hot Springs
- El Cajon
- El Centro
- Indian Wells
- City of Industry
- King City
- La Quinta
- Mountain View (done 10/8/13)
- Newport Beach
- Pacific Grove
- Palm Desert
- Palm Springs
- Palo Alto
- Rancho Mirage
- San Diego (done 7/30/13)
- San Marcos
- Santa Maria
- Temple City
- Tulare City
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.
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.
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 www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.