Don Bauder 7:49 p.m., May 22
The California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week in a case where the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California challenges whether the City of Vista, a charter city, has the right to exempt contractors from complying with state prevailing wage laws.
A charter city, as opposed to a general law city, operates largely under its own set of rules, which trump state laws governing similar topics. A charter can be imposed by public vote or by the decision of elected officials. According to the League of California Cities, 120 of the state’s 478 cities operate under a charter.
The state legislature has adopted a resolution declaring the intention for prevailing wage laws to apply to all public projects, including those undertaken by charter cities. Further, Governor Jerry Brown, while acting as the state’s Attorney General, filed an amicus brief agreeing that prevailing wage laws apply to charter city projects.
Numerous other cities have considered adopting charter status, partially driven by a motivation to cut construction costs by reducing wages. Proponents have said such pay cuts can result in savings of 15-30%, while detractors in the labor industry point to a finding by the U.S. Census Bureau that indicates labor costs comprise less than 22% of the total expenditures on the average California construction project.
El Cajon is one of the cities that will be watching the proceedings closely, as residents there will vote in June on whether to adopt a charter, though they may not know before voting whether they’ll be able to eliminate prevailing wage provisions. A ruling from the Supreme Court on the matter should be issued within 90 days of the court date, scheduled for April 4, 2012.