May 30, 1998 - From the May, 1998 issue

AIA is No on Prop. 224: A Constitutional Con!

By Robert Newsom, AIA who is Senior Vice President of DMJM, one of California’s oldest and largest architectural and engineering firms. He serves as President of AIA Los Angeles and as Co-Chair of Architects Registered in California Political Action Committee (ARC PAC), an organization created to defeat the Competition Killer Initiative. TPR presents his opposition to Prop. 224.  

"Thomas Jefferson... once said, 'were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.'”

THOMAS Jefferson, our nation's third President and an architect, once said, "were we directed from Washington when to sow, and when to reap, we should soon want bread.” California, thankfully, is not looking to Washington just yet, but if a public employee’s union gets its way, the State’s taxpayers will soon be looking to Sacramento for most of their public design. PECG—the Professional Engineers in California Government—has qualified Prop. 224 for the June 2, 1998 ballot. 

If passed, this constitutional amendment would all but prevent the government from contracting with private sector architects and engineers. What PECG lacks in public policy smarts they more than make up for in brashness and political gall, claiming their proposal would provide competitive bidding. Those of us who work for a living call it what it is: the Competition Killer. 

The foundation of this taxpayer hoax is the provision that requires the State Controller, an elected officer in California, to perform a cost analysis on every State and most local building projects to determine whether the public sector can perform the design services cheaper than the private sector. 

Fair enough? Hardly. 

This measure is sponsored by a public employee's union, and rest assured, California's formidable public employees did not spend nearly $2 million to eliminate the need for their services. To the contrary, they have rigged the cost analysis to ensure the need for their services. 

Here's the catch: The cost criteria for the civil service sector includes "additional direct costs"— staff salaries not already on budget—while the private sector criteria include salaries, taxes, benefits, utilities, rent supplies, telephone and fax charges, blueprints and any other costs associated with a project—plus, the State's contract administration costs. A hypothetical project cost comparison using PECG 's shenanigans produced—surprise—a more than 50% overage by the private sector. 


There is absolutely no way the private sector can compete on PECG's tilted home field. And thus, the design of California's schools, libraries, courthouses, community centers, public administration buildings, low-income housing, prisons, fire and police stations, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects will all be done by State employees in Sacramento. The result will be that a lot of firms will close their doors and many fine architects, engineers, contractors, and others will lose their jobs. In fact, economic analysis estimates private sector job losses of close to 100,000 in the first two years and a taxpayer price tag of 1.5 billion. The largest firm in the State will be the State. And, worst of all, local communities will lose control over the design of their own public projects.

In plain speak, the amendment is a sweeping attempt to provide job security for public employees and to stifle competition in the public sector marketplace. 

I am not a constitutional scholar, but I am sure that providing job security for civil service employees—be they architects, engineers or park rangers—would be a dubious exercise of State constitutional powers. Government, just like any other entity, needs the freedom to manage its agencies like the private sector, and be responsive a reflexive to the needs of its clients—in this case, the people it governs. Furthermore, the constitution should not be a bomb shelter where well-heeled public employees union members can hide from competition and the ups and downs of the economy. But, perhaps most important, the constitution should not prevent its own citizens from participating in the design of their public realm at any level of government. 

The private sector design and construction community has treated Proposition 224 as an act of war and has responded with an all-hands-on deck campaign. But rest assured, PECG did not spend $2 million to watch their absurdity fail on election day. They are poised, through deception and misrepresentation, to take away what we have spent a lifetime earning. We owe it to ourselves, our respective professions, and to taxpayers to see to it that they don't. 


© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.