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GOP lawmaker to push for full prevailing-wage repeal next year

With Wisconsin’s prevailing-wage laws to cease applying to local projects starting next year, a Republican lawmaker is saying he wants to eliminate the minimum-pay requirements for state projects as well.

State Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, announced in a news release Thursday that he will introduce legislation that would get rid of prevailing-wage laws for road and building projects commissioned by state government. GOP lawmakers had used the state budget last year to eliminate the pay requirements for schools and various other local projects. That change is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Hutton was one of the biggest advocates of last year’s overhaul. He had initially introduced a bill that would have eliminated prevailing-wage requirements for all public projects, whether commissioned locally or by the state.

That proposal was eventually restricted only to local projects, though, after concerns arose that a total repeal could not garner enough votes to get out of the Legislature. Hutton suggested Thursday that he wants to finish the job.

“With a challenging upcoming biennial budget, which will potentially include significant investments in vertical and horizontal infrastructure, we have to continue giving taxpayers a voice by finding ways to fund projects as cost effectively as possible,” according to his release. “Eliminating the prevailing wage requirement on all state funded projects will help accomplish this goal by removing archaic government formulas that artificially raise the cost of construction. This would open up projects to more competition, allowing for different designs and techniques that can be considered at lower costs.”

Another Republican in the state Assembly, Speaker Robin Vos, has said total repeal of the state’s prevailing-wage laws could be part of a compromise that might raise additional money for transportation projects. Vos and other Assembly Republicans have argued that lawmakers should at least be open to the idea of increasing the state’s gas tax or vehicle-registration fees.

Gov. Scott Walker, though, has promised to veto any budget that does not balance revenue increases with tax cuts elsewhere. Walker has instead endorsed a budget proposal that would reduce the state’s reliance on borrowing at the cost of delays to the Zoo Interchange reconstruction and various other long-planned projects.

Whatever formal proposals are eventually put forward, Republicans are likely to have to do far more haggling with members of their own party than with Democrats to get anything passed. Republicans entered the statewide elections held in November with already strong majorities in both the state Assembly and state Senate and then went on to pick up a couple of seats.

They now hold 64 of the Assembly’s 99 seats and 20 of the Senate’s 33. Those strong GOP majorities will give Democrats very few, if any, means of stopping further changes to the state’s prevailing-wage laws.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Hutton said he plans to propose a law that would prevent the state and local governments from requiring construction companies to enter into project-labor agreements if they want to win public contracts. Project-labor agreements, also known as PLAs, generally direct contracts to union companies in return for pledges to not strike or disrupt work on a project in other ways.

Hutton said his legislation would not ban PLAs outright. Private owners, for instance, could still make signing a PLA a condition of working on their projects.

Critics of PLAs generally say that they give unionized companies an unfair advantage. Among other things, PLAs often require every worker on a particular project – union and nonunion alike – to contribute to union pension funds.

Nonunion companies note that they many times are already helping to provide retirement benefits for their own employees. So when they pay into union pension funds, they are not only paying twice for the same thing, but also setting aside money that their employees will most likely never be able to use.

Both the city of Superior in northwestern Wisconsin and Dane County have attached PLAs to local public projects.

About Dan Shaw, dan.shaw@dailyreporter.com

Dan Shaw is the associate editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at dan.shaw@dailyreporter.com or at 414-225-1807.

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