If you ask local government advocates and officials to describe a particular piece of legislation, typical answers are hedged. Diplomatic terms like “work in progress” or “good with the bad” are the norm. But SB 7 brings unambiguous responses like arrogant, wantonly irresponsible, and wrong. That’s because SB 7 would decimate the municipal finances of 51 cities and undermine the will of their voters.
SB 7 inflicts heavy punitive damages on cities that use their power as charter cities to alter prevailing wage laws. As part of the concept of home rule, which was included in the California Constitution and later upheld by the state Supreme Court, charter cities are allowed to dictate when, if, and how prevailing wage should be included in purely municipal projects. In other words, if a charter city is paying to build a new civic center and is only using city funds, then they have the right to decide not to pay prevailing wage.
However, SB 7, authored and championed by Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) serves as an end run around not only Home Rule, but the state Constitution as well. If passed and enacted, SB 7 would cut off all state funding to any city where voters approve any restriction on the use of prevailing wage, regardless of the source of a project’s funding.
Even if one were to put aside the preposterous end-run around constitutional law and the fact that Steinberg has repeatedly sworn to uphold and protect that same document, SB 7 is still an abhorrent example of the arrogance of Sacramento power and pet projects.
Take, for instance, the utter lack of concern for the numerous unintended consequences.
If voters approve a restriction on prevailing wage, then state funding is immediately terminated. As currently constructed, there is no definition of state funds. Therefore, it could include tax incentives for economic development, grants for drinking water, loans, or even public safety funding.
With such catastrophic consequences, SB 7 (and every member of the State Legislature that votes for it) would drive many of the 51 cities to the brink of insolvency.
Keep in mind that SB 7 was never heard in committee, a deliberate oversight that further obfuscates the issue. Skipping this essential vetting encourages uneducated voting and dire consequences.
Had SB 7 appeared before committee in the Senate, its impacts could have been studied and debated. Certainly a few minutes of discussion on the Senate floor is nothing less than wildly insufficient.
In slightly more than a week, the bill will be heard for the first time by the Assembly local government committee. Hopefully local government stakeholders and Sacramento’s lawmakers will be able to learn more about what harm SB 7 will do, and wisely cast votes against its passage. However, the stakes are high as interest groups exert pressure on members.
Prevailing wage remains a hot-button issue with organized labor, especially in the construction industry. They, in turn, ask their allied members in the Assembly and Senate to make a law that resolves their concern. Such is the way business is done every day in Sacramento. It’s the nature of the beast.
Hopefully this time the beast won’t devour the authority of cities, the integrity of the state Constitution, or the lawful will of millions of voters statewide.