SB 7 would only further complicate financial mess

June 24, 2013 

As if the huge fiscal impacts of realignment (Assembly Bll 109-prisoner early release) weren't tough enough for California's cities to absorb, Sacramento is launching another assault on certain local government treasuries.

The latest attack is Senate Bill 7, sponsored by Sens. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres. The bill seeks to punish charter cities — such as Modesto — that use local taxpayer dollars in a fiscally responsible fashion on local building and infrastructure projects.

In California, there are more than 120 charter cities. Charter cities have unique protections that allow cities to exercise more control over local affairs under the state Constitution. This protection is known as "home rule." In short, this means when Modesto decides to use local tax dollars on a local project, Sacramento can't tell Modesto how to spend its local dollars on the project.

Even the California Supreme Court recently weighed in on this issue and reaffirmed the rights of charter cities. In July 2012, a ruling was issued in the case of the State Building and Construction Trades Council vs. the city of Vista. That ruling stated the following:

"Autonomy with regard to the expenditure of public funds lies at the heart of what it means to be an independent governmental entity. We can think of nothing that is of greater municipal concern than how a city's tax dollars will be spent; nor anything which could be of less interest to taxpayers of other jurisdictions."

However, that very same union is the sponsor of SB 7 — and in the Capitol urging union- friendly legislators to give it what it could not get in court: a mandate to use state-set union wage rates on locally funded charter city projects.

SB 7 would require Modesto to pay state-mandated prevailing wage rates on every project and prevent Modesto from realizing the minimum 15 percent savings the taxpayers currently see on local projects. If this bill were to pass, Modesto could not exercise its rights as guaranteed under the state Constitution.

The legislation will jeopardize the city's ability to contract out basic maintenance services of its parks, municipal buildings and municipal facilities. These contracts include a multiyear maintenance agreement with a local nonprofit organization that employs developmentally disabled workers.

You would think that legislators like Steinberg and Cannella would be trying to help cities, especially in this time of lean budgets. Instead, SB 7 will hurt rather than help cities in these hard times.

This bill will be heard in the Assembly Local Government Committee on Wednesday. Please call your Assembly representatives and tell them to oppose SB 7. Sacramento should not be allowed to take away local control from charter cities or punish cities that choose to use this constitutional right.

Goehring is the government affairs director of Associated Builders and Contractors, Northern California Chapter.


For more information on Senate Bill 7, go to The proposal passed the Senate on a 28-10 vote. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, voted yes and Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, voted no.

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