“Thank you for the chance to testify today in opposition to SB 7 on behalf of the League of California Cities and my charter city, Pasadena.
The League has expressed grave concerns with this bill’s design to force changes in voter-approved city charters. Just last year our Supreme Court said that these decisions were “municipal affairs” and belonged exclusively to the voters under the California Constitution.
SB 7 also would impose serious financial hardships on 5 million Californians in 51 charter cities, depriving them of funding from 22 or more state grant programs that their own state tax dollars help finance if they don’t change voter-approved contract policies.
As a fellow elected official for many years, I urge you to ask this question: should the Legislature ever pass a law that tells voters how they must exercise their exclusive power over legislation in order to receive their own tax funds?
We submit the answer is clearly NO, and the reasoning has nothing to do with the subject of prevailing wage. Under our California Constitution the people reserve only a few important legislative powers to themselves. The first is the power of initiative, referendum and recall.
The second equally important reserved right of voters is the power to adopt city charters. When voters adopt a city charter they are adopting a local city constitution to control how their city government is structured, when elections are held, how city taxes are spent, how employees are hired, how contracts are approved and how the successful bidders on construction contracts are selected. This includes whether or NOT to pay prevailing wages. Over many years our state Supreme Court has recognized that all of these matters are “municipal affairs” and the exclusive province of charter cities and their voters.
This reserved power of the voters to adopt city charters is so fundamental that the Legislature is actually prohibited by the constitution from interfering with city charters just like it is prohibited from changing a voter initiative that does not authorize such legislation.
We know this because in a 1979 case involving Sonoma County our state Supreme Court said that the Legislature cannot impose conditions on grants of state funds that interfere with the exclusive constitutional authority of the voters over municipal affairs. (Sonoma County Organization of Public Employees v. County of Sonoma (1979).
When each of us took office we believed passionately in the constitutions of our nation and our state and pledged to do our utmost to protect them. Here is how SB 7 conflicts with this solemn duty.
It is an effort, perhaps well-intentioned but nevertheless incorrect, that violates our constitution by compelling the voters of certain charter cities to engage in our most protected and cherished form of speech—how we vote—to vote a certain way to ensure they receive part of their tax funds back. Voters may choose some day of their own accord to make that change, but I hope you will agree that no compulsion should ever be applied to accomplish this or any other illegal end.
If these state constitutional reasons were not enough, just last Thursday a 6-1 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court said that a provision in a federal statute that compelled AIDS grant recipients to adopt policies opposing prostitution violated the First Amendment’s free speech clause because it required the recipients to “to pledge allegiance to the government’s policy …” (U.S. Agency for International Development v. Alliance for Open Society International).
I respectfully submit that SB 7’s purpose is to get the voters in charter cities to forsake their constitutional right to vote on their own local affairs by requiring them to adopt the state’s prevailing wage policy. The 5 million Californians who live in the 51 charter cities directly affected by SB 7 and indeed all Californians deserve our support for their constitutional right to determine the structure and policies of their charter cities without the threat of losing state funds.
As you know, our success as elected officials is powerfully linked to our voters and our respect for the core democratic values we share. If they believe we are acting in good faith, they are more likely to support our proposals like last year’s Proposition 30. If they suspect otherwise, we can predict the results.
We respectfully urge you to avoid this dangerous and illegal precedent by voting NO on SB 7.
Thank you for your attention and your service to the people of our great state.”
Please visit the League’s website at www.cacities.org/SB7
Established in 1898, the League of California Cities is a nonprofit statewide association that advocates for cities with the state and federal governments and provides education and training services to elected and appointed city officials.