In Pennsylvania, a group of Republican lawmakers began an assault on the state’s prevailing wage laws, pushing for legislation which would exempt school districts from the mandate. HB 707, being championed by State Rep. Jesse Topper, is similar to a move by the Nevada GOP.
Currently, school districts must pay the prevailing wage on any project with a price tag larger than $25,000. Topper wants to raise that threshold so that few projects mandate quality wages for construction workers. He explained his position to Penn Business Daily:
“We must give our school districts flexibility to forgo burdensome, outdated requirements so that they may keep costs down and balance their budgets,” Topper said.
“Even if the cost is only cut by 10 percent, school districts across the state would save $700 million in construction costs over the course of 10 years,” Topper said. “This is a way to improve education without going to taxpayers to foot the bill.”
HB 707 is supported by right-leaning groups including the Pennsylvania School Board Association. In a news release, the group’s Senior Director of Government Affairs John Callahan said:
“Dollars spent on costly mandates, such as prevailing wage, are dollars that cannot be spent in the classroom. Compliance with this mandate forces school districts to spend precious taxpayer dollars on items that have little or no impact on the quality of education.”
In response, Keystone Research Center (KRC) Executive Director, Dr. Stephen Herzenberg, issued the following statement:
“Pennsylvania’s prevailing wage law helps prevent the construction industry from degenerating into destructive wage and price competition, which drives skilled and experienced workers from the industry, reduces productivity and quality, and leads to poverty-level jobs, without saving customers any money.
Ah, those pesky economists. Always actually doing the research before taking a position.
KRC’s numbers suggest that prevailing wage repeals lead to:
• less workforce training,
• a younger, less educated and less experienced workforce,
• higher injury rates,
• lower wages; and
• lower health and pension coverage.
In Vermont, meanwhile, lawmakers are taking the opposite approach. They recently gave preliminary approval to a prevailing wage raise. The move comes as part of legislation that funds $158.7 million in state infrastructure projects.
The capital bill, as passed by the House, includes:
• $18 million for statewide major maintenance over the next two years, an increase of $1.7 million more than Gov. Peter Shumlin’s proposal.
• $19.4 million for the Agriculture and Agency of National Resources lab facility in Randolph, a $2.9 million increase over the governor’s recommendation.
• $19.1 million for the Waterbury Complex, a $1.7 million more than what the Shumlin administration proposed.
• $300,000 for state construction aid for school district consolidation, a $2.7 million decrease from the governor’s recommendation.
• $14.7 million for the expansion of an IT project in the Department of Finance.
• $8 million over the next two years (half of the governor’s recommendation) for an IT project in the Agency of Human Services that would manage eligibility for Medicaid and other benefits programs.