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Unions Fill Power Vacuum at Obscure California Regional Government

On June 7, 2016, voters in nine California counties in the San Francisco Bay Area will vote on a proposal (Measure AA) to annually assess a $12 tax on every property parcel. This tax would apply equally to each parcel, ranging in assessed property value from Google headquarters in Mountain View to a $30,000 trailer in Vallejo.

San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority Parcel Tax Ballot QuestionThe tax money would go to the obscure Oakland-based San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, established in 2008 by state law as a regional agency. Regional governments are increasingly popular in California, in part because state laws such as the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32) and Senate Bill 975 (2008) are compelling local governments to collaborate on public policy.

Governed by officials appointed by local governments, these regional governments often lack press oversight and public accountability. That creates a power vacuum that groups eager for taxpayer funding can fill for their own advantage. Construction unions have seized the opportunity.

In the case of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority, union Building Trades Councils of the nine affected counties want to control future construction contracts funded by this parcel tax. On February 24, 2016, the board of the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority considered a policy requiring construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions as a condition of working on contracts greater than $100,000 funded by the proposed parcel tax.

San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority governing board

San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority governing board gets ready to praise Project Labor Agreements at its February 24, 2016 meeting.

In front of a full room of union officials from the entire region, almost every Bay Restoration Authority board member expressed strong support for a government mandate for construction contractors to obtain their workforce (including apprentices) from the union hiring hall and make all employee fringe benefit payments to union health care and pension funds. One board member dared to assert that the parcel tax was actually about Bay restoration and not labor unions. She also questioned how the union deal would affect volunteer organizations. But in the end, she voted with the rest of the board to proceed with continued development of the Project Labor Agreement policy.

Objections came from construction business associations, the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the Contra Costa (County) Taxpayers Association, Ducks Unlimited, a construction company based in Sonoma that specializes in wetlands restoration projects, and one ordinary citizen from El Sobrante. The board voted to create an ad hoc committee to work with the Santa Clara Valley Water District and Ducks Unlimited to neutralize their opposition to the Project Labor Agreement.

Why is this regional agency implementing a Project Labor Agreement policy? Some of the union love is ideological and some of it is based on politics back at the local governments of the appointed board members. Much of it is presumably intended to convince the unions to provide major financial and organizational help to the Measure AA campaign to convince voters to approve the parcel tax.

Union campaign assistance is needed because of one major obstacle to voter passage of the $12 annual parcel tax: under Proposition 13 (approved by state voters in 1978), a two-thirds supermajority of all voters in the nine Bay Area counties must approve the tax increase. This threshold will be difficult to exceed, even in a region that strongly supports environmental causes. Both the Left and the Right have reasons to reject this tax.

In addition, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority has a logistical challenge in putting one tax measure on the ballot in nine different counties. This is an unprecedented effort that has provoked many legal questions and required significant interaction with county election officials. (Unlike the opposition to the Measure AA parcel tax, the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority has taxpayer funds to get answers to legal questions.)

Big corporations (such as Pacific Gas and Electric) are eagerly supporting this regressive property tax, as it gives them an image of environmental activism while putting the burden of paying for the restoration on ordinary homeowners who had nothing to do with degrading San Francisco Bay in the first place. Nevertheless, union activism will also be needed to overcome voter resistance to sending their tax money to an obscure agency in Oakland.

A Project Labor Agreement locks in that union support. But could it backfire on the San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority?

Ironically, the board’s decision to give unions monopoly control over the construction contract workforce has inspired the development of organized opposition to the parcel tax. It also creates for voters a clearly identifiable example of insider politics, favoritism for special interest groups, and fiscal irresponsibility.


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.

Taxpayer Group Pushing to Gut California’s Prop. 13 is Union Front Group

One lingering success of the Right in California is the public’s continued association of taxpayers’ organizations with fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, and limited government. Statewide groups such as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and regional groups such as the San Diego County Taxpayers Association maintain credibility as leaders in resisting foolhardy tax increases and wasteful spending.

This reputation translates into political power. In 2000, various interest groups wanted California voters to approve what became Proposition 39, a ballot measure that reduced the threshold from 2/3 to 55% for voter approval of K-12 school districts and community college districts to borrow money for construction by selling bonds. To create the impression of responsible oversight for spending, Prop 39 required the establishment of a Citizens Bond Oversight Committee, with the requirement that “One member shall be active in a bona fide taxpayers’ organization.”

Not surprisingly, labor unions are cleverly trying to hide behind alleged taxpayers’ organizations as a way to advance their own political agenda, which typically entails higher taxes and more government spending. One example is the San Diego-based “Middle Class Taxpayers Association,” which succeeded in 2011 in getting the Southwest Community College District board to boot a representative of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association from the Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee and replace her with their own representative.

The new “bona fide taxpayers’ organization” representative was the political director of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, District Council 36 and Local 831. As you have probably guessed by now, construction unions wanted to neutralize any internal resistance to their lobbying campaign for the college board of trustees to require their contractors to sign a union Project Labor Agreement. (That requirement is now in effect.)

Then there’s the Richmond-based “Contra Costa County Senior Taxpayers Group.” It issued a letter in 2012 critical of a study produced by the head of the National University System Institute for Policy Research, who was scheduled to speak at a meeting of the legitimate Contra Costa Taxpayers Association. Little information is available on the web about this group, but considering that it seems to pop up only when construction unions are lobbying for Project Labor Agreements, it’s obvious that this group serves union interests.

Another example is revealed in the January 29, 2014 column “Lack of Leadership a Big Obstacle in Updating Prop 13” by George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times. It asks “Are California voters ready yet to change Proposition 13 so that all corporations pay their fair share of property taxes?”

Corporations are not paying their “fair share” in taxes, according to the perspective of this column. A reader might wonder what “fair share” means, and think there’s a balanced, objective, data-based argument when reading this:

Lenny Goldberg, executive director of the California Tax Reform Assn., has been pushing for years to modify Prop. 13 and close the corporate loopholes.

“We’re trying to organize, educate and expose what’s really happening,” he says. “We’re developing data and looking at some of the largest landowners in the state. If it turns out people don’t care, they don’t care.”

“My modest goal is to get it out front and center so people can have a discussion and not avert their eyes.”

According to the columnist, this taxpayers’ organization has a “modest” goal for a public “discussion” about an injustice it has identified in the tax code. Sounds reasonable. Perhaps the group wants corporations to pay their “fair share,” so that ordinary taxpayers can get a tax cut.

Or perhaps not.

Mr. Skelton has written for the Los Angeles Times since 1974, and new challenges face newspaper columnists in 2014 that were not around 40 years ago. One of them is busybody readers and their access to a newfangled “series of tubes” called the Internet that can be filled with information, such as the real identity of taxpayer groups. Any gadfly who wonders why a taxpayer organization wants to increase taxes can research it and expose it through social media.

Done! The California Tax Reform Association – of course – is yet another union front group. In 2012, 60 percent of its revenue came from these unions:

California Tax Reform Association 2012 Union Contributions

Still not sure? Here is the 2012 board of directors for the California Tax Reform Association:

California Tax Reform Association 2012 Union Board of Directors

The group hasn’t posted on its web site since May 23, 2012. That’s one highly-credible source! But it’s a convenient one, and deceiving too.

A lesson for citizens: just because an organization calls itself a taxpayers’ group does not necessarily mean it doesn’t want to raise your taxes or control government spending. Plenty of union money and personnel are being used to undermine one of the last defenses of fiscal responsibility in California. Check every group carefully and expose the union control to the public when you find it.

Sources

Lack of Leadership a Big Obstacle in Updating Prop. 13 – column by George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times – January 29, 2014

Proposition 39 (2000)

Real Taxpayers’ Associations

Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

San Diego County Taxpayers Association

Contra Costa Taxpayers Association

Union-Backed Taxpayers’ Associations

Middle Class Taxpayers Association

Builder Decries Loss of Oversight Members: SWC Board Replaced Two on Prop. R Committee over the Summer – Southwestern College Sun newspaper – October 7, 2011

Breaking: Labor Corruption…SD Labor Council Seeks to Oust Taxpayer Advocate from Oversight Committee – posted on San Diego Rostra by Ryan Purdy – July 12, 2011

California Tax Reform Association


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.

 

San Diego and Sacramento Asking Voters to Approve Over $3.0 Billion in Construction Bonds with Union Mandated Labor Agreements

Two California urban school districts notorious for requiring their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) with construction trade unions will be asking voters to approve huge bond measures in the November 6, 2012 election.

Voters have overwhelmingly approved two large bond measures during the past 15 years for both the San Diego Unified School District and the Sacramento City Unified School District, but Project Labor Agreements were not an issue in those four campaigns.

The current elected board members of these two school districts apparently figure that cutting bid competition by giving unions control of construction work will not deter the November electorate in their cities from approving a third bond measure.

Whether or not voters make these school districts accountable for their construction contracting policies on behalf of construction trade unions will largely depend on the response of business and taxpayers groups to the proposed bond measures. There are few precedents in California for organized, well-funded campaign opposition to bond measures at school districts. On the other hand, opponents of Project Labor Agreements have 15 years of political experience aggressively fighting union-backed contracting policies at California local governments, particularly in San Diego and Sacramento.

San Diego Unified School District Wants Taxpayers to Pay for Bond Measure Worth $2.8 Billion (before Interest is Considered)

At its July 24, 2012 meeting, the Board of Education of the San Diego Unified School District approved a resolution to place a $2.8 billion bond measure on the November 6, 2012 ballot. This plot to get more taxpayer funding for construction has been in the works since the board’s November 1, 2011 meeting, at which the board directed staff to study the feasibility of a new capital facilities bond measure. The board received the results of the feasibility study on February 14, 2012, and of course the bond measure was highly feasible.

This is the third time in 15 years that the San Diego Unified School District has asked voters to approve billion-dollar bond measures. On November 3, 1998, 78% of voters approved the $1.51 billion Proposition MM, under which construction was awarded under fair and open bid competition, despite union lobbying for the school district to mandate that construction contractors sign a Project Labor Agreement.

Not knowing at the time that construction unions would be given control of the work, 69% of voters approved the $2.1 billion Proposition S on November 4, 2008. A Project Labor Agreement was sprung by the school board in January 2009 after union special interests won a seat in the same election and attained 3-2 majority control. The final version of the Project Labor Agreement was approved in July 2009 on a 3-2 vote, and the two board members who voted against it are no longer on the board.

In contrast to 2008, San Diego voters in the November 2012 election will be fully aware that the school board has given unions control of most of the work funded by the proposed $2.8 billion bond measure. To lock in the Project Labor Agreement for additional work funded by future bond measures, the school board voted 5-0 at the July 24, 2012 meeting for a resolution that expands the scope of the Project Labor Agreement for all projects that exceed $1 million and are paid for in whole or in part with future local bond funds.

Usually school boards are coy about their plans to mandate a Project Labor Agreement until after voters approve a bond measure. In this case, voters will be considering the wisdom of government-mandated Project Labor Agreements as well as the wisdom of taxing the citizens and businesses of San Diego an additional $2.8 billion (plus billions more in interest) for school construction.

Sacramento City Unified School District Wants Taxpayers to Pay for Bond Measure Worth $346 Million (before Interest is Considered)

On July 19, the Board of Trustees of the Sacramento City Unified School District approved a resolution to place a $346 million bond measure on the November 6, 2012 ballot. This plot to get more taxpayer funding for construction has been in the works since the board’s January 19, 2012 meeting, at which the board authorized the development of a Sustainable Facilities Master Plan. A feasibility study for this bond measure, including polling of voters, is ongoing, but you can bet that the bond measure will be found to be highly feasible.

This is the third time in 15 years that the Sacramento City Unified School District has asked voters to approve multi-million-dollar bond measures. On October 19, 1999, 79% voters approved the $195 million Measure E in a special election. On November 5, 2002, 67% of voters approved the $225 million Measure I.

The board of the Sacramento City Unified School District voted 5-1 on September 1, 2005 to require all contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with construction unions in order to work on projects worth $1 million or more funded by the remaining $170 million authorized by Measure E (1999) and Measure I (2002). On September 4, 2009, the board voted 5-0 to extend the district’s Project Labor Agreement on all Sacramento City Unified School District projects worth $1 million or more for another four years. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local No. 340 union official and board member Patrick Kennedy did not vote, in order to avoid a conflict-of-interest. See the amended and extended Project Labor Agreement here.

The school board for the Sacramento City Unified School District has considered Project Labor Agreements three times since 2000. The change in voting patterns symbolizes the change in the political climate of California over the past 15 years.

  • 2000 Board voted 4-3 to reject a PLA.
  • 2005 Board voted 5-1 to approve a PLA. (Actual vote count was 5-2.)
  • 2009 Board voted 5-0 to renew a PLA. (Actual vote count was 7-0.)

First Study on Project Labor Agreements in California Shows Cost Increase on School Construction

In July 2011, the Associated Builders and Contractors – California Cooperation Committee (ABC-CCC) announced the release of a study done by the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego showing that California school construction project costs under Project Labor Agreements are 13-15 percent higher than costs under fair and open bid competition. The study is at www.thecostofPLAs.com.

The policy institute held a press conference on July 22, 2011 about the study, and a mailer about the study was sent to all public works and facility officials at California local governments. Union officials and a professor at a labor institute at Michigan State University promptly attacked the study, but undermined themselves by claiming the study omitted the consideration of variables that the study actually and clearly considered. This comprehensive study took 2½ years to complete and is probably the best Project Labor Agreement study ever produced in terms of sample size and validity of the results.

The author of the National University study spoke at a monthly meeting of the Contra Costa Taxpayers Association on May 18, 2012 and was greeted by a “friend,” courtesy of the Contra Costa County Building and Construction Trades Council.

It’s not a surprise to see union officials so intent on attacking the detractors of Project Labor Agreements, considering their significant loss of market share over the past 30 years and the difficult economic circumstances in the California construction industry. They need work without the disadvantage of competition, and the school boards of the San Diego Unified School District and the Sacramento City Unified School District are willing to give it to them through Project Labor Agreements. It remains to be seen if taxpayers are willing to be part of it.

Kevin Dayton is the President and 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.