Construction Unions Dominate a Marin County Bond Measure Campaign
Construction trade unions in California are likely to be celebrating on November 3, 2015 as voters approve another set of local school bond measures and launch another round of taxing, borrowing, and spending.
Eight school districts in California are asking voters to approve a total of nine bond measures for school facilities construction on the November ballot. These proposals would authorize school districts to borrow money for facilities construction by selling bonds to investors. It would not be unreasonable to predict that voters will approve all nine bond measures.
Two of the nine bond measures are on the ballot for voters in and around the City of San Rafael, in Marin County. San Rafael City Schools is asking permission from voters to borrow $108 for the elementary school district and $161 for the high school district, for a total of $269 million. The district is assuming future enrollment growth and projecting continued increases in assessed property valuation. It has current debt service of $177 million in outstanding principal and interest accumulated from previous bond measures.
Pay-to-Play and Other Entanglements
Firms that won district contracts related to preparing the bond measure are involved in the campaign. In a typical example of so-called “pay-to-play” contracts for bond measures, a financial advisory firm obtained a no-bid contract from the district in June for $15,000 in pre-election and $65,000 in post-election bond advisory services. It has contributed $9500 to the campaign. A consulting firm that won a contract from the district to perform a “Bond Feasibility Survey” for the bond measures – and found the bond measures to be feasible – has earned $13,507 from the campaign. Another firm involved in the feasibility survey has contributed to the campaign. In addition, a public relations consultant who was involved with the feasibility survey is working for the campaign and has received $7,500 so far (see below).
Construction Trade Unions Have Dominated the Campaign to Pass the Bond Measure
Construction unions have directly contributed $31,000 of the $90,950 in reported contributions through October 26, 2015 to the campaign to pass Measures A and B. That is 34% of the total. (See the chart at the end of this article.) Unions had contributed $20,000 of the first $30,000 raised by the campaign, thus supplying valuable seed money for operations.
A Carpenters Union hall is the site of the campaign phone bank. Services from the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council to the campaign are reported through October 17, 2015 as an in-kind contribution of $10,034.
A public relations consultant who used to be the Director of Public and Governmental Relations for the Northern California Carpenters Regional Council has been paid $7500 through October 17, 2015 for campaign-related work. This consultant was also involved in the feasibility study.
There Is No Organized Opposition
No one submitted an argument in opposition to the bond measures, so the Official Voter Guide only includes arguments in support. No one has filed papers with the California Fair Political Practices Commission or the County of Marin to establish an opposition campaign fund. The Marin United Taxpayers Association appears to be dormant on this issue. However, at least a handful of individual informed citizens are vehemently opposed to the bond measures, as shown in posted comments in response to Marin Independent-Journal newspaper articles and an editorial endorsing the bond measures.
The Likely Outcome
Deprived of an opposing perspective, voters in this area of Marin County will likely approve both bond measures at a percentage well above the 55% needed for passage. Then, because of the extensive involvement of construction trade unions in the campaign, the school board will likely vote soon after the election to require construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of performing under a contract funded by the bond measures. That union monopoly on construction may cost taxpayers an extra $25-40 million, but with $269 million authorized to borrow and pay back over the next 30-40 years, who’s worried about it today?
Source of Contribution Information: Form 460s and Form 497s for Committee For Strong San Rafael Schools – Yes on A&B
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.