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Prevailing-wage repeal coasts through state Senate panel

A panel of state lawmakers on Tuesday gave the green light to a bill that would eliminate prevailing-wage requirements for state projects.

Senate Bill 216 would repeal what’s left of Wisconsin’s prevailing-wage laws and would come on top of lawmakers’ decision two years ago to eliminate the minimum pay requirements for local projects.

The Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform voted 3-2 along party lines to give SB 216 a favorable recommendation Tuesday.

Sen. Frank Lasee, R-DePere, argued ahead of the vote Tuesday that the bill would merely subject state contracts to the same rules as private-sector work.

“This law we are repealing is not in place for them, and they are doing just fine.” he said. “We’re joining the private sector.”

Lasee also noted that private construction projects are common and no less safe than state projects.

However, Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville, said her primarily blue-collar district would be harmed by the bill.

“It’s unfair that we want to cut wages when the governor has said he wants to see more skilled apprenticeships in this state,” she said. “Wages will be less than they are now. I cannot support this bill.”

Her comments echoed those the committee had heard at a public hearing last week.

Prevailing-wage proponents contended the requirements help attract skilled, experienced workers to the construction industry and ensure firms are paying a fair wage. Some also argue that eliminating the requirements would hurt veterans, who work at higher rates in construction than other industries.

Prevailing-wage opponents counter that the requirements artificially inflate the cost of government contracts and harm taxpayers.

Eric Bott, director of the right-leaning Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin, applauded the panel’s recommendation.

“Repealing Wisconsin’s prevailing wage would be a victory for both taxpayers and people seeking employment in Wisconsin,” he said. “The only people who truly benefit from these laws are the union bosses who can dictate the rates. Passing Senate Bill 216 would help protect taxpayers, control government spending, and strengthen a fair and free market in our state.”

The bill’s next stop is the full Legislature. Should it pass there, it would still need Gov. Scott Walker’s signature to become law.

Chances are good the governor would sign the legislation. Walker hinted at the same elimination for state projects in a budget proposal he released in February.

About Erika Strebel

Erika Strebel is the law beat reporter for The Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 414-225-1825.

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