A Self-Imposed Crisis

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Guest Commentary
by Hugh Akston

I was going to remain silent on this issue, but comments made at a recent San Diego City Council hearing on the issuance of bond offering documents as well as articles by former Councilmember Donna Frye at Voice of SD and SD Rostra got the best of me.

While I can probably guess that most Rostra readers support Proposition A, which would keep the City of San Diego from forcing the use of Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) on construction projects, that is not the point of this column. My beef is with state elected officials, on behalf of the opponents of the measure. If you don’t know the background, the Legislature passed TWO “gut and amend” bills, SB 922 and SB 829. These measures are intended to undercut the authority of local jurisdictions where voters pass measures prohibiting their governing boards from “considering” adoption of PLAs, by penalizing those agencies with a loss of state funding for construction projects.

Without a doubt, should San Diego voters pass Proposition A, all hell will break loose in the courts. (Does the City get a discount if they package Proposition B along with Prop A?). Yet, again, I’m not here arguing whether SB 922 and 829 are unconstitutional or if Proposition A would negate any state monies.

SB 922 was originally a bill about immunizations, which passed the Senate on May 9, 2011. On September 2, 2011 the bill was amended to deal with contracting, right in the middle of the signature gathering effort for Prop A. Was the argument of potentially losing hundreds of millions of dollars used by opponents when the City Council ultimately voted to place the measure on the ballot? You betcha.

SB 829 was originally a bill dealing with the Occupation Safety and Health Appeals Board. The bill passed the Senate on May 31, 2011, worked its way through Assembly committees, and was eventually gutted on February 23, 2012, also to address the PLA issue. This was the second bite at the apple. Based on legal opinions saying SB 922 was a little wishy-washy, supporters of 829 went back and made the language even stronger.

Its pretty evident these legislative efforts were not separate from the campaign to oppose Proposition A. In fact, the basis for the opposition has moved AWAY from how great PLAs are said to be for workers, to the argument that the City MAY lose money if Prop A passes, due to the two bills that opponents of the measure worked to get through the legislature.

The dots are easy to connect.

We now have State Senator Christine Kehoe sending a representative down to the city council meeting voicing concerns about how Proposition A could impact San Diego, jobs, etc. and that such information should be disclosed on bond offering documents. Donna Frye is even making a comeback and weighing in, along with Scott Barnett of taxpayersadvocate.org. (Why isn’t Barnett using his title as San Diego Unified School Board member? That’s right, just look how great they’re doing).

We wouldn’t have been in this position if the State Legislature hadn’t meddled in the affairs of local jurisdictions and their voters. It’s no wonder many municipalities are moving full steam ahead to become charter cities. What we have here is a self-imposed crisis by the very same people that are saying “Look out!”

Like so many others here are probably thinking, let’s just get on with the election and get past all of this ridiculousness.

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Comments 15

  1. Gosh, isn’t it wonderful that Democrats have majorities in both houses, and thus are held accountable for their actions? That’s the argument for simple majority rule as espoused by liberals and their front groups (such as Common Cause, Next 10, etc.)

    Only one problem. They are NOT “held accountable.”

    How many people are aware of this amazing “gut and amend” process becoming more and more common in the state legislature — allowing it to rush through stealth bills at the last minute, before opposition or adverse publicity can arise.

    You’d THINK the press would be enraged by this subterfuge of democracy. Instead, all we get are “zzzzzzzz’s.”

    Democrats can’t even pretend that they use “gut and amend” because of Republican opposition — these bills require only a simple majority to pass.

    Democrats, why can’t you at least go through the vetting offered by the proper legislative process? Silence.

    So enough of this “held accountable” crap. That might fly in some academic discussion, but it is not the case in the real world. Super-majority vote requirements are our last protection against the “Greeceification” of CA. And a weak bulwark it is, now that the legislature can pass bogus “balanced” budgets with a simple majority vote.

    Which brings us back to that legislative “budget accountability” thingy. How’s that working out for us, eh?

  2. Self imposed by the legislature or by those who would, for purely political gain, remove from duly elected representatives THE OPTION of using a construction delivery method that has been ruled legal by both the California and United States Supreme Courts? Who is the one playing politics here?

  3. Alger: self imposed by the campaign against Prop A. Opponents can’t win at home, so they went to Sac to get the job done for them. Despite your opposition to Prop A, local voters are deciding the fate of their cities. Now they are being told by elected officials 500 miles away what they can and cannot vote on.

  4. Richard,

    Gut and amend has been around for a very long time, even back when the Republicans controlled the legislature. You know that and that makes it very disingenuos of you to intimate that this is something the Democrats just came up with.

  5. This may be the kind of issue on which Alger should disclose to Rostra readers if he has some interest at stake – even as I and other election professionals disclose our interests here when we have an economic connection.

    Alger need not reveal his name to acknowledge when he has an economic connection to a subject under discussion.

    Alger sees the rest of us abide by Rostra’s rules – and when he posts here daily – if not hourly- he should step up and abide by the standards everyone else here does.

  6. Jim,

    I have no economic interest in Prop A or whether or not construction projects are done under a PLA or not. In instances where I have a direct interest, I will (and have) posted under my own name.

  7. You seem upset about a process that is frequently used called a “gut and amend” where the subject matter of the underlying bill is changed. This process is not an uncommon practice. However, each bill (SB 922 and SB 829) still went through the hearing process that those bills would normally go through.

    SB 829, for example, went through two Assembly Committees (Business & Professions and Appropriations) before going to the Assembly Floor. After passing the Assembly it was referred back to the Senate, the house of origin, and went through the appropriate committee there (Governance and Finance) before being voted upon on the Senate Floor. That is the same process this bill would have followed if it had started out in its final form.

    SB 922, went through two Assembly Committees (Business and Professions and Appropriations), one Senate committee (Governance and Finance), and two floor votes all after the bill was amended to its final form.

    Furthermore, you should read SB 922 in its entirety because you are misreading what the bill does. It requires any PLA to be open to union and non-union contractors, makes it illegal to discriminate in the hiring of workers based upon the usual factors we all know (gender, race etc) including whether a worker is in a union or not.

    The bill does not take away local control because it does not require a city to adopt or even consider a PLA. What the bill does is penalize cities who were forbidding future city councils from ever considering a tool that the private sector and many other municipalities use to save on their construction costs.

    Banning PLAs is illogical because doing so can waste future taxpayer dollars. With the state financial crisis, why should the state continue to send its scarce taxpayer dollars to a city that has outlawed a proven cost saving tool? Remember, these are state funds given to a city. In this case, the only string on the funds is too not ban the use of a PLA. Again there is no requirement to consider a PLA; no requirement to use a PLA; you just can’t ban them and expect to get state funds.

    By the way, San Diego has never used a PLA.

  8. Jerry: Are you telling me that even before 922 was passed that it was LEGAL to discriminate in the hiring of workers? Weren’t PLAs already open to both union and nonunion contractors? Because if they weren’t, all of the arguments about how PLAs were fabulous were just bold face lies.

    Have you read Prop A? Tell me where it says PLAs are banned from being used on city construction projects. Both of these bills are using the loss of state funding as threats. And we are seeing that all too often now (see SB 375). This a direct impact on local control, and I’m sorry if you can’t see that (or choose not to see that).

  9. Hugh,

    Actually it is Prop A that is taking away local control from our elected legislative branch of City government. Can you name another initiative that banned a duly elected legislature from carrying out their responsibilities? I know of a few that put in a requirement for a super majority, but I can’t think of one that completely forbid legislative discretion.

  10. OH MY, OH MY, OH MY, OH MY, OH MY! Alger, just how “direct” an interest do you have to have before it is indeed construed (by you) to be a “direct interest”???

    OH MY, OH MY, etc. etc.

    Alger, you have become Rostra’s poster child for requiring posting under one’s REAL name. Thanks.

  11. Jerry is telling us that local governments around the state are just DYING to pay more for construction projects. They want to raise their own building costs by restricting PLA REQUIREMENTS.

    Just another union flack posting anonymously. SURE, Jerry, we believe you — sure, union labor saves money, and our central government should block local jurisdictions who think otherwise.

    Jerry, care to join “Alger” as our true identity poster child? Or children?

  12. Did I say the Republicans didn’t do it in the distant past? Maybe they did, I don’t know. Don’t even care — such GOP miscreants are probably almost all dead and gone by now.

    The “everybody did it sometime, somewhere” is NO defense for such actions. It’s PATHETIC that you would even try. And BTW, I’m the LAST Republican on this blog to defend wayward Republican actions.

    The point is, the Dems have taken this gimmick to a new level. Moreover, they’ve been in firm charge of both state houses for the last 32 years (except for a brief 2 years in the State Assembly in the mid-nineties).

    Your team runs the place, and even then abuses the process. Have been doing this for decades. Now apparently more than ever. And yet you serve as their apologist. You embarrass yourself.

  13. Thank you Jerry for resorting to name calling as opposed to answering the questions.

    Alger, how is it not local control when voters are deciding the fate of their government? Is requiring voter approval to increase retirement benefits eliminating local control? How about Prop 218? Having to go to voters to change law locally, as opposed to go through the bureaucracy of Sacramento is local control.

    Obviously we are now far removed from the point of the column, but thank you Alger for having a conversation as opposed to name calling.

  14. Hugh,

    I do think there is a difference between choosing a construction procurement method for a particular project (Prop A) vs. raising taxes (Prop 218) or locking in long-term future costs through increased benefits. However, your point is well-taken and I thank you for pointing out that there were other times that the voters did take complete control of an issue away from their elected officials.

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