Gov. Jerry Brown and every Democratic legislator should be required to read the fact-finder's report demanded by municipal workers embroiled in a labor dispute with the city of Concord.

The horribly reasoned Jan. 7 recommendations provide a compelling example of why state lawmakers must stop meddling and let local elected officials make the prudent fiscal decisions for which they were elected.

The report results from a labor-backed bill Brown signed in 2011 that gives unions, when negotiations break down, the right to call for a fact-finding inquiry before a local government can impose a one-year contract.

In Concord's case, arbitrator Carol Vendrillo, a Richmond-based attorney, served as the so-called neutral fact-finder. Her one-sided report demonstrates disregard for basic municipal finance and for long-term fiscal consequences.

Concord currently already has a $5.5 million structural deficit. If not for Measure Q, a temporary sales tax increase voters approved in 2010, the city would be unable to cover expenses. But the tax increase expires in three years.

Measure Q required an oversight committee, which mandated that the tax increase be spent to protect core services, help cover the city's structural deficit and rebuild badly depleted city reserves.


Advertisement

City officials wisely plan to bank some of the money so they have funds to ease the transition when the tax expires. The hope is that the economy will begin to improve so that sales and property taxes gradually rise as Measure Q funds are depleted.

But Vendrillo's says the city should raid the sales tax revenue now to immediately increase salaries and benefits by 12.3 percent, with a reopener in six months to negotiate further increases.

Never mind that's not what Measure Q money was intended for. Never mind that would leave the city in a horrible financial bind in three years. Vendrillo doesn't care. She dismisses the city's tradition of responsible long-range financial planning -- planning that saved the city having to make horrible layoffs in recent years.

Indeed, at times in her report, Vendrillo seems to lose all objectivity. She warns, "employees' expectations, labor peace, and a positive labor/management relationship, while difficult to measure in monetary terms, must weigh heavily in the (City) Council's response" to her recommendation.

At another point, she notes that several city workers observed the five-day fact-finding hearing, leaving her with "a very tangible feeling of their commitment to the city and their earnest desire to make a contribution to the city's future well-being."

That may all be true. But it's irrelevant to the city's ability to pay more for salaries and benefits. And it's certainly not justification for running Concord off a fiscal cliff, as interim City Manager Kay Winer notes in the city's well-written official response, which lawmakers should also read.

Fortunately, Vendrillo's report, while based in fantasy and devoid of reality, is a nonbinding recommendation. Unfortunately, it will only raise employee expectations and make it that much harder to reach resolution.

You have Democratic lawmakers and the governor to thank for that.