Senate Bill 7, being pondered by the California Assembly, may be one of the worst pieces of legislation to plague California this year. It’s essentially an effort by California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, to reward certain state construction unions, who are clients of the Democrats.
The bill would punish charter cities who do not pay so-called prevailing wages on any public projects in those cities receiving state or federal money. The cities of Merced and Modesto, among others, hate the bill because it would force them to pay wages equivalent to wages paid in the Bay Area, which are higher than wages paid in the San Joaquin Valley. In fact, Bay Area wages are some of the highest in the country.
That may make sense if you live in the Bay Area — where the prevailing wage would be the wage you would pay anyway. But why, the Valley cities logically ask, should Valley projects be burdened with higher wages?
Madera isn’t a charter city. Ours is a general law city. We have to pay prevailing wages on public projects whether we like it or not if any public money is used. Unfortunately, we, too, are subject to paying wages based on Bay Area rates. This adds a lot of money to the cost of public projects.
Bigger cities sometimes become charter cities to have more control over their own destinies, such as whether to pay prevailing wages. SB 7 would take that control away.
Steinberg also is backing legislation that would have beneficial effects — such as a bill to revive local redevelopment agencies with a new name (SB 1) and an overhaul of the state Environmental Quality Act (SB 731). Both those bills could help the Valley, where redevelopment agencies often provided capital for revitalizing run-down neighborhoods, as in Madera, and where the Environmental Quality Act is often misused to block important projects in agricultural and forestry.
SB 7 is not a good bill, but SB 1 and SB 731 are worthy of support.