Local Politics

Thursday, Jul 18 2013 05:25 PM

City officials say prevailing wage bill threatens projects

BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

City and county officials criticized State Senate Bill 7 in a press conference Thursday at City Hall, branding it an attempt by Sacramento to punish charter cities for spending public funds wisely.

SB7 would amend state labor code to prohibit a charter city from receiving or using state funding or financial assistance on a construction project if it has a charter provision or ordinance authorizing contractors to not comply with prevailing wage provisions on any public works contract.

Bakersfield and Shafter have such provisions in their code. However, representatives of both cities said they encourage fair business practices, and the heavy hand of the bill's principal author, state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is unwelcome in Kern County politics.

"The (city) passed a resolution which provides the city flexibility to not require prevailing wage for locally funded projects. This is a great tool in promoting the efficient use of taxpayer dollars," Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall said. "Cities like Bakersfield and Shafter can lose millions in vital state dollars that would shut down projects -- things like street repairs to make routes to schools safer, or water system improvements."

State prevailing wage laws ensure that a contractor's ability to get a public works contract is not based on paying lower wages than a competitor.

James Zervis, administrative services director for the city of Shafter, said vital water and sewer projects could be threatened by passage of SB7.

"We will be unable to complete projects like the connection to Bishop Acres outside our city limits to ensure that community has a reliable and safe source of drinking water," Zervis said.

The legislative director of the Building Trades Council, which comprises 14 building and construction trades unions statewide and sponsored the bill, challenged local interpretations.

"The bill does not force a charter city to pay the prevailing wage. It simply incentivizes it," said the Council's Cesar Diaz. "If you level the playing field, you have better quality work that's done right the first time."

A representative of Steinberg's office said the Assembly Labor Committee will hear the bill in August, when legislators return from their summer recess.

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