Local News

Saturday, Apr 28 2012 02:00 PM

DAVID VALADAO: We need to protect local control of local projects

BY DAVID VALADAO

During these tough budget times, you would think Sacramento would do everything possible to keep costs down and save taxpayers money. Sadly, the state is doing the opposite when it comes to public construction projects in order to benefit a privileged few.

In the fight for lucrative contracts, this privileged few have lobbied Sacramento hard to essentially require local governments to use "Project Labor Agreements." These agreements, known as PLAs, are sweetheart contracts awarded almost exclusively to unionized firms with the right political connections.

PLAs are the opposite of the open and competitive bidding on construction projects that would ideally occur to drive down costs. Because PLAs are negotiated behind closed doors, projects tend to cost as much as 20 percent higher than they normally would be.

One example is the construction of Pasadena's Glenarm Power Plant in 2004. The same contractor bid at $14.9 million under open bidding, but raised the price to $17.2 million to accommodate the PLA requirements of hiring union labor. Taxpayers had to spend an extra $2.3 million.

That is $2.3 million that could have been better spent by the city of Pasadena on public safety and other priorities.

As a result, several California "charter" cities such as Fresno -- those that have supreme authority over municipal affairs -- have voted to ban the use of PLAs to encourage competition. Other charter cities, including Shafter and Bakersfield, have the authority to ban PLAs as well.

Labor interests that have a monopoly on PLAs became alarmed by this trend. So last year, in the middle of the night, they successfully convinced the Legislature to pass a law called Senate Bill 922 to deny state funding of public works projects to charter cities that banned PLAs.

This law undermines local control and makes it extremely difficult for cities to maintain their PLA bans. Now if these cities want state funding for infrastructure such as fire stations and hospitals, they have no choice but to work with the special interests who want to get as much money from local taxpayers as possible.

In response, I authored Assembly Bill 1804 that would repeal this law and restore local control of local projects. My bill would make the contracting process open again, allowing union and non-union shops to compete for taxpayer-funded projects. But unfortunately, those who benefit from PLAs convinced their allies in the Legislature to kill it.

As is often the case, this common sense measure to preserve local control died quietly in a Capitol committee room.

While some people may think this is a partisan issue, it actually transcends ideological lines. Voters in cities that have banned PLAs span the political spectrum. What all of these cities have in common is that they are attempting to do what is best for their community. The Legislature should fund local projects based on need, not on politics.

At a time when our economy is struggling, people are losing their jobs and local governments are getting deeper into debt, making projects more expensive is the last thing taxpayers need. I will continue to fight for taxpayers by preserving the freedom of locals to stretch infrastructure dollars to the fullest.

-- Assemblyman David Valadao, R-Hanford, represents the 30th Assembly District. He is one of five local elected officials writing about their work in The Californian. These are Valadao's opinions, not necessarily The Californian's. Next Sunday: Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield.

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