If the crushing burden of pensions, health care and crumbling roads were not enough, the state Legislature has made it clear in no uncertain terms that it is at war with California’s cities and counties.
Unions, to be sure, are behind this legislation to prevent outsourcing.
The state fired its first shot in 1992 when it created the educational revenue augmentation fund. Since its inception, ERAF has stolen approximately $120 billion from local governments. This year, the augmentation fund will pilfer $7 billion more in property taxes from cities, counties and special districts.
In 2011, the state attacked local government again, hamstringing the ability of cities and counties to improve their infrastructure by dissolving local redevelopment agencies.
The Fairfield RDA, for example, was funded by the incremental taxes paid by property owners in a number of former city growth areas, notably the area where the Solano Town Center mall and adjacent commercial development sit, and the Green Valley Crossing shopping area off of Business Center Drive. That Fairfield money, which would have paid for improvements in the city, now goes to the state and is redirected to, primarily, local schools.
Last week, the combatants in the Capitol launched a new barrage at cities and counties. The Democrats in the Assembly, on a straight party-line vote, approved House Resolution 29, which is an attack on the ability of local governments to outsource services.
While HR 29 is nonbinding, it is likely that this resolution will be followed by legislation that prohibits any outsourcing that saves money. Its author, Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, said before the resolution was passed that “HR 29 would also provide support for plans that reduce outsourcing.”
Written at the behest of various public employee unions, HR 29 claims that outsourcing undermines “the underpinnings of democracy itself.”
The idea is that if government employees drive the street sweepers in Fairfield, that is democratic. But if our city signs a deal with Solano Garbage, a private company, to provide that service, that is a throwback to the days of King George III.
Co-authored by Assemblyman Jim Frazier, D-Oakley, and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, D-Davis, the resolution says, “. . . the Assembly opposes outsourcing of public services and assets, which harms transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition, and supports processes that give public service workers the opportunity to develop their own plan on how to deliver cost-effective, high-quality services.”
Unions want to stop outsourcing now because they know many California cities and counties are on the verge of bankruptcy, due to the high cost of labor. That expense includes large amounts of paid holidays, sick leave and vacation time, high salaries, rich medical benefits for employees and their families, increasingly burdensome pensions and fast-growing costs for exceedingly young retirees.
Local governments are looking for ways to maintain the services they provide their citizens. If costs grow faster than their revenues, they will be forced to cut critical services. Outsourcing some tasks offers the chance for impoverished cities and counties to maintain public safety, roads and parks and to take care of the poor and elderly.
Fairfield, for example, shed its street sweeping duties in favor of Republic Services (formerly Solano Garbage Company) crews when the contract for trash collection was renewed. That change actually puts some money into the city’s coffers. It has an added benefit as well: The city is no longer paying for pensions or medical benefits of these private workers.
Rather than let our infrastructure disintegrate completely, Solano County and the city of Fairfield ought to be looking for more areas to outsource, when that means getting the job done as well or better for less money.
We agree with the League of California Cities in its opposition to HR 29. The League’s legislative director, Dan Carrigg, was spot on in saying, “The fundamental job of a local elected official is to manage their respective municipality in a responsible manner and provide services in cost-efficient manner. It is just good management practice to try to make sure you are making sound decisions with the public’s money.”