Opponent: Prevailing wage has ‘no real benefit to the state’

A Republican legislator who’s backing an effort to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law says he is not focused on trying to improve a law that he considers irrelevant, but he still left the door open to the possibility of change rather than repeal.

“So to go about tweaking it, I think you have to make the argument for why we want to tweak a law that really has no real merit and real benefit to the state or, you know, on a national basis,” Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield said during a Capitol press conference on Wednesday. “With that said, I think there are some tweaks and some reforms that could be considered. I think that discussion remains to be seen at some point in time.”

But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has maintained his position that prevailing wage will not be repealed. According to his office, Vos remains focused on finding ways to improve the law.

Hutton held the press conference with various repeal supporters representing the construction industry, independent businesses, municipalities and school districts. Prevailing wages, which are based on state surveys of companies, apply to most public works projects and are minimum rates of compensation for workers in individual trades in specific counties.

Steve Lyons, spokesman for the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition, which represents 450 businesses, said the group remains firmly opposed to the bills. But he, too, acknowledged that the discussion is not over.

“I think you’ll see some changes, but I don’t know what those will be,” Lyons said. “But I think full repeal is a bad idea.”

Hutton and others used as evidence for repeal a Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance report, commissioned by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, that highlighted flaws in the way the state determines prevailing wages. That report also suggested state and local governments could save millions on public projects if prevailing wages more accurately reflected market rates, particularly in northern and rural parts of Wisconsin.

All of the speakers at the press conference discussed how repeal could save money and remove an onerous, bureaucratic weight.

“What the study finds is that despite what proponents of prevailing wage claim, that it reflects local wage standards, that it really doesn’t,” said John Mielke, ABC of Wisconsin president. “In some cases, it significantly inflates local wage standards, and in some instances there are anomalies created in the way the formula is used to set wage rates that just make no sense for the industry.”

Lyons criticized the report for poor methodology behind its conclusions. His group also cited, in response to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance report, a specific passage in a March 27 Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo on prevailing wage costs: “Existing research on the impact of prevailing wage laws on construction costs is mixed and inconclusive. Excluding studies which assume that the entirety of any increase in wages is passed on to the government in higher contract costs (wage differential), the evidence on prevailing wage effects generally range from relatively small effects to no statistically significant effects (cross sectional and time series).”

The debate, Lyons said, has prompted a healthy discussion of the law. But interest in changing prevailing wage, he said, depends on the context.

“The million-dollar question is: How do you define ‘improve’?” Lyons said.

Listen to Hutton’s press conference: http://wispolitics.com/1006/150401prevailingwage.mp3

Read the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance report: http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/ABC_Prev_Wage_Report.pdf

Read the Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo: http://www.wispolitics.com/1006/FB_Memo.pdf