Proposed City-Wide Project Labor Agreement Mandate: Look Before You Leap

Dear Mayor Steinberg and Councilmembers,

We write to urge you to postpone consideration of the proposal to mandate that all city projects of $1 million or more include a project labor agreement, which appears on your agenda for tomorrow evening.

The consideration of such a measure with zero public awareness and no opportunity of the public to adequately express their views would be an affront to any concept of open, transparent government or inclusive public engagement. Slamming this proposal through the city council without adequate time and opportunity for real public input would further undermine the public’s already attenuated trust in city government and city leaders.

This is not the way a participatory, inclusive democracy behaves. This is the way slick politicians who want to sneak things past the public behave. We trust that you wish to count yourselves among the former and not the latter.

The proposed mandate would have a huge and as yet unknown impact on the city’s budget and on the burdens of city taxpayers. We all know that project labor agreements serve to effectively restrict city contracts to union-only contractors, thereby reducing the number of eligible bidders on city contracts, thereby needlessly driving up city and taxpayer costs by 10% to 20%, according to the studies of independent analysts.

Such cost spikes will likely drive up taxpayers costs by tens of millions of dollars each year in Sacramento, depending on the volume and magnitude of city capital improvement projects each year. Over a 10-year span, such a mandate could drive up costs by as much as $200,000,000, all for the sake of benefiting a narrow special interest, the construction trades unions, while unfairly cheating the 90% of skilled trades workers who are not union members out of the opportunity to earn a living.

It would also especially harm minority and women-owned businesses, the great majority of whom are non-union businesses.

We also note that Sacramento residents will vote this fall on your proposal to double and make permanent the temporary Measure U one-half percent sales tax hike that expires in March.

As chair of the campaign to defeat the double-the-tax Measure U, it would behoove me to remain silent and even encourage you to approve such a budget-busting PLA mandate on city projects as it would hand our No on Measure U campaign a vivid example of how our city government is shoveling millions of dollars out to back door of City Hall into the pockets of politically connected special interests at the expense of average Sacramentans.

But I also happen to be a citizen who deeply cares about the long-term fiscal health of our city. I cannot stand idly by while the proponents of this deeply flawed proposal drive the city’s financial future into a ditch.

We urge you to do the right thing and direct staff to do a comprehensive, independent fiscal analysis of the long-term impacts of the proposed PLA mandate on future city budgets, non-union workers and minority and women-owned Sacramento businesses. If you are serious about restoring trust in city government, you must provide the public a reasonable opportunity to learn about this proposal, study it and then communicate with their representatives their views on it.

If you wish to discuss this matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Craig Powell, President
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030

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Eye on Sacramento’s Position on Mayor’s Effort to Double Measure U Sales Tax Hike

MEDIA RELEASE

For Immediate Release

Date/Time: July 31, 2018, 6:00 a.m.
Contact: Craig Powell, President,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org
Website: www.eyeonsacramento.org

 

Eye on Sacramento’s Position on Mayor’s Effort to Double Measure U Sales Tax Hike

 

Below is a link to a letter that was sent today by Eye on Sacramento President Craig Powell to Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg regarding EOS’s position on the Mayor’s effort to double the Measure U one-half percent “temporary” sales tax hike in the City of Sacramento.

Measure U will be on the agenda of two Sacramento council meetings today, July 31st, one at 2:00 p.m. and a second meeting at 5:00 p.m. Mr. Powell will be available for interviews both before and after the 2:00 p.m. council meeting.

Letter to Mayor Darrell Steinberg

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Budget Checkup … City Hits List of 20 Most Financially Distressed U.S. Cities

By Craig Powell

After devoting my last two columns to Sacramento’s homeless crisis, I figure we’re due for a review of the city’s financial situation since Darrell Steinberg became mayor.

Among the more than 3,300 issue files that Eye on Sacramento (the civic watchdog group that I head) maintains on municipal issues is one that is often whimsical: our city rankings file. We track every time a study or publication ranks Sacramento against other cities on everything from its appeal to millennials to the quality of our coffeehouses. (There’s considerable crossover there.) But the latest ranking, published by JPMorgan Chase, is anything but whimsical. It’s disturbing.

Since JPMorgan Chase manages about $90 billion in municipal bonds, it’s pretty concerned about whether cities will be able to pay back their bond debt. So it created what one financial analyst calls a comprehensive guide of “which municipalities haven’t the slightest hope of surviving their multi-decade debt binge and lavish public pension awards”—i.e., Chicago, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cleveland.

view/download … Budget Checkup … City Hits List of 20 Most Financially Distressed U.S. Cities

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Billion-Dollar Budget … City spending to increase 25 percent over five years

By Craig Powell

First, there’s the headline number: The city is poised, for the first time in its history, to spend more than $1 billion in the fiscal year that begins on June 30. Total general-fund spending (which pays for police, fire, etc.) is set to hit $450 million next year, while “enterprise” spending (primarily, the utilities department) consumes $584.2 million.

The city expects to employ 4,552 people next year, a slight increase over the current year, but an increase of 720 positions from five years ago. The city expects to employ 130 fewer people than it did in 2008.

City officials are forecasting that the budget will sink into major deficit beginning in just two years, when a general-fund operating deficit of $11 million is expected to grow to $26 million by 2022. You would expect that a city manager, facing the prospect of such red ink, would propose a city budget for next year that calls for major cuts in spending to head off the coming fiscal ditch. But you would be wrong. Fiscal discipline is a very foreign, even suspect concept at City Hall these days. In fact, city manager Howard Chan’s recently released budget forecast anticipates sharp increases in general-fund spending on city operations over each of the next several years, rising from $412.9 million this year to $515.9 million in 2023, a 25 percent increase in operations spending over five years—a spending pace that’s more than twice the inflation anticipated during that period.

view/download … Billion-Dollar Budget … City spending to increase 25 percent over five years

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RT on the Rocks … Fight over fare hikes splits transit board

By Craig Powell

 

To get a sense of how broke Regional Transit is, consider this analogy. Let’s say you’re part of a Sacramento family. You have a fairly well-off, middle-class lifestyle, but in the last couple of years you’ve really splurged, buying yourself a big, new Mercedes and a big, pricey cabin up at Lake Tahoe, all financed to the hilt. Meanwhile, the small business you run, RT Clothing, has never regained the boatload of customers you lost when you decided to jack up your prices by 20 percent in the middle of the last recession (oops), leaving you with a flat income for years. Fortunately, your wife, a retiree who collects both a military pension from the federal government and a healthy state government pension, has been collecting cost-of-living increases for years. She brings home close to 80 percent of the family income these days, bless her. Together, you have a family income of close to $150,000 per year.

The charming new home you bought 30 years ago in Light Rail Estates is showing serious signs of age and, let’s be honest, neglect. Your roof is shot, the paint’s badly peeling, you may need a new furnace and your backyard pool has algae stains and a rather unpleasant odor. Lately, some of the sketchier kids in your neighborhood have been jumping over the fence when you’re not home, swimming in your pool, hanging around for hours on end and leaving their trash everywhere. It’s gotten so bad that many of your longtime friends no longer accept invitations to your summer pool parties. You’ve spotted some of them going into Bob and Nancy Uber’s backyard down the street. The Ubers put in a nice, new pool last year and they let their friends drop in to swim whenever they want.

Things are going so-so until one day you decide to open up your bank and credit card statements for the first time in six months. You’re stunned (stunned!) to see all of the savings you thought you were socking away each month have somehow evaporated. Not only that, you owe a whopping $18,000 on your Visa bill. (How did that happen?) In a panic, you check the balance in your checking account and your heart sinks further. You have just $3,000 in cash and, at the rate your family burns money, it will be long gone in three months’ time.

read more … RT on the Rocks … Fight over fare hikes splits transit board

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Eye on Sacramento Urges City Council: Give Back the Tax!

MEDIA RELEASE

Date/Time: March 21, 2016, 4:00 p.m.
Contacts: Craig Powell, President,
Eye on Sacramento
Phone: (916) 718-3030
E-mail: craig@eyeonsacramento.org

Sacramento City Council Poised to Increase Utility Taxes By

$10 Million/Year as Part of its Major City Utilities Rate Hikes;

Eye on Sacramento Urges Council: Give Back the Tax!

Tomorrow evening, the Sacramento City Council is poised to approve double-digit, four-year hikes in city water and sewer rates. In 2018, the council is expected to seek voter approval of 16% annual hikes – for four straight years – in the city’s storm drainage rate. Collectively, the water, sewer and storm drainage rate hikes, if approved, would draw an estimated $88 million more each year from the pockets of Sacramento residents and businesses once fully implemented.

But there is more to the story.

Because of an imbedded 11% city “utility tax” that is unknown to most city residents, close to $10 million of the $88 million will be siphoned each year from utility customer payments and diverted into the city’s general fund to pay for the general costs of government. The diversions will reduce resources available to keep city water safe and clean, and to keep our sewer and storm drainage systems operating effectively. The diversions also drive up the need for future city utility rate hikes.

“The Council has a clear conflict of interest in deciding whether and how much to increase city utility rates,” said Eye on Sacramento President Craig Powell. “They know full well that for every dollar they increase city utility rates, they automatically divert 11 cents of that dollar into the city’s general fund due to the utility tax. This creates an almost perverse incentive for tax-hungry politicians to raise utilities rates as high as possible so as to inject more dollars into the general fund which councilmembers can spend any way they please,” Powell added.

“The Council can eliminate its conflict of interest and ease the burden on hard-pressed Sacramento residents and businesses quite easily: by returning to the Department of Utilities the $10 million in higher utility taxes that the utility rate hikes would generate each year, preferably with instructions to rebate 100% of the funds to utility customers,” Powell said.

“Several councilmembers have made public statements that major utility rate hikes are needed to upgrade and maintain our water, sewer and storm drainage systems. If that is, in fact, their sole and honest motivation for supporting major rate hikes, they can prove it quite easily by returning the nearly $10 million in higher utility taxes that the rate hikes will generate each year back to the Department of Utilities, instead of snatching it from the pockets of hard-pressed ratepayers for purposes entirely unrelated to utilities service,” Powell concluded.

Just how hard-pressed are Sacramento residents? Based on the most recently available data from the U.S. Census, EOS has computed that the mean household income in Sacramento has declined a stunning 12% from 2007 thru 2013.

The City Council will meet tomorrow evening, Tuesday, March 22nd, at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, 915 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. Make your voice heard by phoning, e-mailing or coming down to City Hall tomorrow evening to make your voice heard on these important issues. Join us in urging the City Council to “GIVE BACK THE TAX!”

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The Pot Tax … Helping kids at the expense of the general fund

By Craig Powell

Jay Schenirer means well, he really does. But programs launched with the best of intentions are no guarantee of sound policy or effectiveness, as Schenirer’s recent proposal confirms.

His basic idea is to dramatically increase city funding of programs for children and young adults by getting voters in June to approve a “new” 5 percent tax on marijuana cultivation, with the proceeds directed exclusively to youth services, bypassing the city’s general fund. Schenirer and his hardworking staff have spent the past year compiling research studies that show the benefits such programs can have on outcomes for kids.

Schenirer is certainly not new to youth issues: He’s spent most of his adult life working on them—in state service, on the city school board, as an education consultant and as the founder of youth-focused nonprofits since his 2010 election to the city council. (He’s raised more private funds for these nonprofits from corporations and foundations than any other councilmember with the exception of our city’s star private fundraiser, Mayor Kevin Johnson.) Schenirer is almost certainly the council’s foremost authority on youth issues, with Rick Jennings—the long-term CEO of the Center for Fathers and Families who served on the city school board alongside Schenirer—a close second.

Schenirer and his staff have prepared a thoughtful 22-page blueprint for how to create a new city department of youth services, an idea that city manager John Shirey threw cold water on by calling it a wasteful increase in city overhead. Shirey prefers to have the parks department, which administers the city’s current youth services programs, handle any expansion of such programs.

read more … The Pot Tax … Helping kids at the expense of the general fund

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Sacramento Voters Were Right to Reject Streetcar Tax

Streetcar ballot measure was flawed

Voters were not ‘naysayers,’ but exercising their rights

 BY JEAN FLEURY

The Big Pink Ballot Box

The Big Pink Ballot BoxSitting on the counter at Sacramento City Hall is a pink ballot box for the Measure B election.  Why is there a ballot box on the counter for a vote by mail election?  According to a clerk at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office, the box is at City Hall for the convenience of voters who don’t have stamps.  Really, I’m not making this up.  I inquired, “Who is in charge of the box?”  The clerk tells me that the City is in charge of the box and calls for it to be emptied when it’s full.  This concerns me a tad.

I stopped by City Hall to check on ‘the box’, sure enough, there it sits on the counter at the security station.  I asked the security guard how often it is emptied.  At first he said, ‘every day’, and then when I continued to stare at him he admitted he doesn’t know if it’s ever been emptied.  I asked him if I could pick it up to see if it felt full… my guess is there’s about ten ballots in the box.  I asked what happens to the box at night; he said he thinks someone takes it into their office.

I don’t know about you but this concerns me.  Who is in charge of this ballot box for an election that will grace the City of Sacramento with $30 Million in taxpayer dollars?  The City.  Why?  When I asked the clerk at the Registrar of Voters why the box is under the care of the city she said I needed to talk to the Assistant Registrar.  I left a message.

Sacramento Soapbox! Trolley Folly

Jeanie Keltner hosts the longest running progressive show in Sacramento.

Today’s Guest Craig Powell and Maggie O’Meara talk about the Sacramento Streetcar Project