The Middle Class Taxpayers Association, a left-leaning consumer group that formed in 2011 but has been largely silent over the past three years, announced on Thursday, June 5, the launch of a website aimed at "providing a reliable source for information on potential dangers that can be hidden in some city charters like the ones being considered this year in as many as five cities across California."
CharterWarning.com implies that charter cities, which differ from "general law" municipalities, pose consumer dangers in that they can exercise greater authority than state law typically allows in the realm of citizen taxation, election procedures, and authorizing excessive expenditures on staff salaries and third-party projects.
As an example, the group points to Bell, California, a Los Angeles suburb driven to bankruptcy after city officials granted themselves and cronies healthy six-figure salaries after a low-turnout election granted the city-charter status, allowing executives to empty the city coffers.
"From our founding, our goal has been to advocate for policies that promote a fairer tax code and good government for the benefit of middle class families. Because we have witnessed the financial and political disasters that have occurred in cities like Bell, San Bernardino and so many others as a result of chartering, we created the website www.charterwarning.com so that the public can learn more about what these proposals could mean to the future of their communities," said Dr. Murtaza Baxamusa, a Middle Class Taxpayers board member and director at the San Diego Building Trades Family Housing Corporation, a union-backed affordable housing program.
Another issue, however, is the freedom granted to charter cities avoid paying prevailing (read: union scale) wages to workers on local government-funded projects. While many city charters contain a provision to allow independent contractors bidding on government work to pay their workers a lower wage, state law prohibits funds coming from outside the city from being used to pay these contractors. Several cities, including Carlsbad, El Cajon, Oceanside, and Vista, are challenging this law in court.
In addition to the above-named cities, Chula Vista, Del Mar, San Diego, and Santee are among the 121 cities statewide operating under individual charters rather than statewide general law. Escondido has also recently proposed switching from general law to a local charter, despite a similar proposal being shot down in 2012.