A Personal Opinion by Charles Mooney
I have read Leonard Gilroy’s Orange County Register March 17 column “Propping Up Unions at Taxpayer’s Expense” and disagree with out-of-towner Gilroy’s slanted and deceptive description of the new prevailing wage law, the issue of prevailing wage in general, the impact on cities like Costa Mesa, and his comments on local control.
Unlike Gilroy’s Reason Foundation (RF), I do not have David Koch of Koch Industries as a trustee nor the slant they often present. Instead, I am a non-union affiliated activist of modest means residing in Costa Mesa (35 years) who defends good city governance and middle class values.
Additionally, I know something about Costa Mesa. I know that Costa Mesa has about a 60 year history of paying prevailing wage without a major road or building project problem. Also, I have attended numerous Costa Mesa City Council meetings and nearly all the City Charter and Pension Oversight Committee meetings.
In contrast, I have seen Gilroy’s picture on the Internet but never recognized him at any Costa Mesa council or committee meetings. This is understandable because the Washington, D.C. RF office says he works out of his home in Arizona. To me this means he is an out-of-towner trying to influence Costa Mesa’s government and residents.
Gilroy argued in favor of a recent legal challenge to a newly passed bi-partisan authored California law (Senate Bill 7) that provides incentives for charter cities to pay prevailing wage on municipal funded public works projects starting in 2015. Under this law a charter city gets state funding for public works projects if they pay prevailing wage on their projects.
Gilroy tried to deceptively portray prevailing wage as the highest possible wage to build municipal facilities, but prevailing wage is not that. Prevailing wage is based on a survey of all employers (union and non-union) in a region and is the standard wage rate, usual benefits and overtime, paid to the majority of workers, laborers, and mechanics of comparable skills within that particular geographic area.
The federal government adopted its own prevailing wage requirement with the Davis – Bacon (both Republicans) Act of 1931 and California has a similar law. The foundation of these laws is that government, as a major buyer in the construction sector, should not use its buying power to drive down wages. Prevailing wages call for workers on a government contract to be paid a similar rate as comparable workers in the private sector.
Despite the logic for prevailing wage and the benefits for the middle class, special interest lobby groups, including RF, have been working to convince California city leaders that they would be better served by enacting city charters so that they could be exempt from paying prevailing wage.
Keep in mind that a charter city is only exempt from paying prevailing wage on public works projects that use municipal funding only, no state or federal funds. For cities like Costa Mesa, only about 15% of public works projects are 100% city funded. Not only that, prevailing wage exemption only applies to the labor portion of a project and that is usually about 10% to 30% of the total project cost. The potential savings are relatively small. So it would be foolish to put a prevailing wage exemption in a charter just to risk not getting state funding. This position is also supported by the observation that sometimes charter cities like Carlsbad are not able to estimate any savings at all.
Unknown to out-of-towner Gilroy, Carlsbad was surveyed for the Costa Mesa Charter Committee to determine if they saved money from their prevailing wage exemption. Their response was
We have found savings to be hard to ascertain. Bid prices may be lower on the front end but there is some suspicion that the total project costs may impact initial savings (change orders, costly project delays, more labor by city employees, etc.)
Carlsbad’s weak experience with prevailing wage exemption is important because, as baffling as this seems, they are one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Senate Bill 7 that Gilroy favors.
Gilroy commented that charter cities need to be exempt from paying prevailing wage so that they could get themselves out from under matters like pensions. However, because the savings are likely to be small, they will not make a significant dent in pension costs or liabilities. Also, at a Special Study Session on February 26, 2013 regarding pensions, which I am sure Gilroy did not attend, Costa Mesa Mayor Righeimer said he was not going to give CalPERS (California Public Employees Retirement System) any more money than they required from the city. As a result, Gilroy’s comments are inconsistent with the mayor’s position and, even if there were some small prevailing wage exemption savings, they probably wouldn’t be put toward reducing pension liabilities.
Lastly, Gilroy indicated that charter cities have more “local control” and that this is a benefit to managing a city’s affairs. “Local control” is an example of doublespeak (aka Orwellian doublethink). Doublespeak is a way of saying one thing while meaning the opposite. In this case, “local control” doesn’t mean more control by the residents of a city like Costa Mesa; it means more control over the residents by the city council majority. Costa Mesans recognized this, among numerous other flaws in the proposed charter of 2012, and it was rejected by 60% of the voters. As another important reminder, “local control” was used as a justification for the city charter of the scandal ridden city of Bell (Los Angeles Times July 23, 2010).
We should remember that Gilroy has no personal stake in Costa Mesa and if prevailing wage or a charter turned out bad for Costa Mesa, he would feel no pain. As a result, I believe his comments on prevailing wage, charters and local control should all be considered as nothing more than an out-of-towner trying to influence our city’s residents and government on behalf of his trustees and clients.
I say, no thanks Mr. Gilroy, we will make our own decisions when we vote for better city governance and middle class values this coming November.
Charles Mooney is a 35 year resident of Costa Mesa. The views above do not necessarily represent the official position of the entire CM4RG membership.