Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Fair and open competition—closed and bitter politicians

Jerry Stratton, May 13, 2012

I just received some political junk mail opposing San Diego’s Proposition A, the Fair and Open Competition act. They claim that “Prop A would cost San Diego hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Which makes no sense, because Proposition A not only reduces the immediate cost of city projects, it helps to cut the money laundering scheme where project money goes to government unions and then gets turned around again to fund the political campaigns of the politicians who voted for the project, so that they can vote for more expensive projects and repeat the process.

All Proposition A says is that:

  1. City construction projects must not be required to use Project Labor Agreements, where this doesn’t jeopardize state or federal funds. They can use PLAs if they want to, but the city can’t require them to.
  2. All construction contracts for more then $25,000 must be made public on the web in an easily-searchable format.

Both of those provisions are obviously good ideas, and will obviously save money. So how could the opponents of fair and open competition come up with their argument? By cheating. They got the politicians, who benefit from campaign contributions from a closed process, to rig the system. The anti-A fliers also say:

Under state law, cities such as San Diego are blocked from receiving state funds for local projects if they enact bans on project labor agreements.1

If Prop A passes, San Diego would no longer be eligible to receive state grants for local construction projects.

The arguments against Proposition A are a good example of why we need to end the entire concept of “public unions”, where “union leaders” negotiate with politicians who benefit, through campaign donations, from this diversion of public funds. Government unions are a money-laundering scheme for politicians to fund their campaigns with state and local money.

The state law that the fliers mention is not a pre-existing law. It was passed specifically to block Proposition A. State politicians, fearing that the money spigot might get turned off, passed Senate Bill 829 on April 12 to cut off state funds to San Diego. Proposition A actually contains an exemption for projects that would lose state funding if subject to open competition. So Senate Bill 829 forbids state funding for any project, if any other project in the city allows open competition for bids. It’s designed purely to block any competition in San Diego public projects—and to lock in that wonderful money laundering scheme.

The government union politician asks city and state politicians for more money, the city or state politician gives it to them, and then the government union politician diverts some of that money back into city and state politician’s campaign.

And when it looks like voters are onto the scam, the politicians pass laws like the anti-fair and open competition 829.

One of the candidates in the mayoral race, Nathan Fletcher, is in the state assembly but chose not to vote on the bill. Fletcher could have voted no. Hell, he could have voted no and it still would have passed.

Government unions are in business for politicians, not for employees.

I wouldn’t worry too much about SB829, though, for two reasons. First, San Diego only received 158 million from the state for construction projects last year—and that’s from the anti-A flier.2 Yeah, a million here, a million there, it starts to add up, but San Diego’s FY2013 budget is going to be $2.71 billion. A hundred and fifty-eight million is over a hundred million less than the $294 million cost of the new city hall they keep trying to pass3.

But more likely, if Proposition A passes, state politicians will change the law to continue to allow them to buy votes in San Diego. They’re not going to risk not being able to put money into pet projects in San Diego, and they’re especially not going to risk seeing an independent San Diego do better than the rest of the state.

SB829 was passed to keep Proposition A from passing, not to tie the hands of state politicians if Proposition A does pass. It might even be that the escape hatch is built-in. The law could be read to only forbid funding to cities that forbid project-labor agreements. Proposition A does not forbid anything except requiring project-labor agreements.

Opponents of Proposition A are also claiming that the requirement to put all contracts in a searchable format on the web is superfluous, because “City policy already requires the posting of all contract details on the Internet”. But if it were true4 it’d be easy to prove, and they don’t offer the easy proof: the URL to the web site where we can easily search San Diego contracts. I can’t find it. The only thing I was able to find is the list of contracts, but not the contracts themselves5.

Proposition A requires “the text of all Construction Project contracts”, “the number of total bidders who competed for the contract”, and, if the City awarded the contract without bidding, the mayor must explain why.

That’s a lot more than just the list of project details at the City Purchasing site. Having the full contracts alone makes Proposition A worth passing.

Except as required by state or federal law as a contracting or procurement obligation, or as a condition of the receipt of state or federal funds, the City shall not require a Contractor on a Construction Project to execute or otherwise become a party to a Project Labor Agreement as a condition of bidding, negotiating, awarding or the performing of a contract.

To help ensure City compliance with the purposes of this Ordinance, the Mayor shall post on the City’s website in a searchable format the text of all Construction Project contracts entered into by the City valued at more than $25,000 in a given fiscal year. The Mayor shall redact any proprietary, trade secret, or otherwise legally privileged or confidential information from contracts prior to posting. For each contract, the Mayor shall note the number of total bidders who competed for the contract. For any sole source contract, the Mayor shall post a written justification for the sole source determination.

In response to California 2012: 2012 is going to be a very important election for San Diego. Do we continue to reform the city’s financial state, or do we resume the path to insolvency?

  1. Proposition A does not ban project labor agreements. It doesn’t require them, but contractors remain free to use them. The opponents of Proposition A are trying to allow San Diego to ban contractors that don’t use them.

  2. I’m actually assuming that the 158 million the anti-A flier said we received last year was from the state. The flier just said “Last year alone, San Diego received $158 million for construction projects”; it doesn’t say the money came from the state. If any of that is federal money, it would be unaffected.

  3. The planned cost is $294 million. The actual cost would almost certainly be more. These sorts of things tend to run 50% to 100% or more above budget.

  4. Saying that something is required doesn’t say that it is actually performed. “All contract details”? What’s a detail? “On the Internet”? How on the Internet—the Internet is more than just the web.

    Again, all they really needed to post was the actual URL of where “all contract details” are posted.

    Incidentally, what happened to the rebuttals in the Voter Information Pamphlet? For as long as I’ve been receiving these things, each “Argument in Favor of” was followed by a “Rebuttal to” that allowed for a response to the argument made. That’s not in the June 5 2012 Voter Information Pamphlet.

  5. The list is in a PDF document, with a separate document per year. Searching it means repeating the search over each document and ranging through the document rather than getting a search result back. It uses arbitrary abbreviations to make searching that much more difficult.

  1. <- The Meaning of Choice
  2. Carl DeMaio’s salary ->