Sacramento is often ground zero for the state’s political battles. But now the city and county of Sacramento are on the frontlines of a statewide, local government issue. Project Labor Agreements, either maligned as wasteful or touted as responsible, continue to be hotly debated when it comes to using taxpayers’ dollars on public works projects. Los Angeles County recently approved their first-ever PLA, while San Diego and Orange County recently banned PLAs entirely.

“As the state capitol and a major metropolitan area, Sacramento is a reasonably ambitious and exciting place to pursue Fair and Open Competition in government contracts,” said Kevin Dayton of the Association of Builders and Contractors. He also said that the association isn’t only looking at Sacramento. “We do intend to pursue Fair and Open Competition policies in the sprawling metropolitan areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles.”

Dayton says that unions have been open about their wanting to enact PLAs on a $270 million transit program, the $387 million new Kings arena, a $2 billion wastewater upgrade project, and a $6 billion rail yard development project.

High on the list of possible PLA targets is the new Sacramento Kings Arena. In fact, when Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson assembled his Regional Arena Committee, he tapped two construction labor leaders as members. The first, Bob Balgenorth, is the president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council. In a Sacramento Bee Article from June 16th, Balgenorth is described as “Mr. PLA.” Another appointee to the committee was Matt Kelly, the President of the Sacramento Building Trades Council. The same article from June 16 reported him saying that “area labor unions will likely seek some form of PLA for the arena.”

Additionally, PublicCEO was recently given emails regarding the Sacramento Regional Transit District’s South Sacramento Corridor Extension Phase II project. The emails reveal that staff has been, for the past two months, negotiating and assembling a new project labor agreement for use on its extension. According to an email dated May 18, 2011, the district is constructing their PLA “verbatim from the union master labor agreement.”

Should a PLA be approved for this, or any of the other $8.6 billion worth of projects, area contractors will be all-but excluded from competitively bidding for the work. One contractor in particular, Rex Moore Electrical Contractors and Engineers, is the area’s largest electrical contractor and they have a strict rule against bidding on projects executed under PLAs.

According to Rex Moore’s human resources director, Greg Anderson, the PLA requirement that contractors hire workers out of local hiring halls disqualifies the vast majority of the company’s employees, and makes any such arrangement untenable.

The four projects mentioned previously aren’t the only PLAs proposed or enacted in the Sacramento area. According to a press release by Fair and Open Competition Sacramento, the group that is organizing the effort to ban PLAs, more than two dozen PLAs have either been proposed or enacted, including projects at SMUD, the Sacramento Unified School District, and the Sacramento International Airport.

The Fair and Open Competition Sacramento campaign proposes two amendments to the County and City charters.

“The charter amendments that we are proposing contain some language from the San Diego County ordinance,” said Kevin Dayton. In 2010, San Diego voters approved a countywide ban on PLAs with 75% approval.

“We are going to focus on fiscal responsibility and ensuring there are more jobs available in the construction industry because, as you know, the Sacramento construction industry has been hit very hard,” Dayton continued. “Because of the presence of the capitol, people are much more educated here politically, which means they are going to be much more diligent in evaluating the proposal.”