Vista, CA – The landmark ruling from the California Supreme Court agreeing with the City of Vista that prevailing wage decisions on municipal projects are “municipal affairs” governed by local ordinances, is a long-awaited victory for local control, reform and the California taxpayers. In essence, the court reaffirmed that for “municipal affairs,” charter cities are “supreme and beyond the reach of legislative enactment.” In a State like California, where the legislature is on a power grab, this constitutionally protected autonomy is a tremendous victory with long-reaching ramifications.
The court reaffirmed that under the State Constitution, the ordinances of charter cities supercede the state law with respect to this type of “municipal affair” and that state law cannot be used to invade Vista’s (or therefore, any other charter city’s) constitutionally protected autonomy as a charter city. This is huge for local control and will allow cities that have been fighting in the trenches for reform — such as Oceanside, Escondido, San Diego, Chula Vista, El Cajon and Vista — to realize the millions of dollars in taxpayer savings predicted for cities that became chartered.
Cities stand to protect local dollars now that the uncertainty of charter cities’ abilities to refuse paying prevailing wages on local construction projects is decided. Studies show that these state mandated wage rates increase costs and decrease efficiencies. A 2005 California study showed prevailing wage rates can add nine to 37 percent to the costs of construction.
The court reaffirmed its view — first expressed 80 years ago — that wage levels of contract workers constructing locally funded public works projects are a municipal affair and thus exempt from State regulation. Therefore, these wages are not a statewide concern, period.
Cities like Escondido, which just voted 4-1 to place a city charter before the voters in November, and cities like El Cajon, which just went through the June primary, both amidst loud protests from State construction union groups, can now stand on solid ground with the clear and confirmed right to taxpayer savings by not paying prevailing wages on local projects. Escondido has conservatively estimate upwards of $16 million can be saved on local construction projects in the next five years if a city charter is in place.
City taxpayers are the big winners in this case. In Escondido, if our charter passes, we will be able to pay construction wage levels that are set by the LOCAL market, not by unions in Los Angeles or bureaucrats in Sacramento.
When wage rates are set at reasonable levels for the local market, there is more money for more jobs for more projects and more savings for the taxpayers! Even better, some power is finally taken away from the Sacramento politicians who have driven the California economy into the ground. As an Escondido city councilmember, my job is to protect the tax dollars of my city, not to subsidize big labor unions or their political friends.
Charter cities now have a great future in our State. They are models for government reform and local control. We will continue to look at ways to fiscally reform our city government to save taxpayer money. Sacramento should be following our lead and working for the taxpayers instead of against them.