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Home / Commentary / OPINION: Before pumping money into infrastructure, repeal costly Davis-Bacon Act

OPINION: Before pumping money into infrastructure, repeal costly Davis-Bacon Act

Federal infrastructure investments can play a key role in establishing jobs and promoting a fuller economic recovery in the aftermath of our nation’s COVID-19 response — if we get the details right.

One of the hallmarks of federal spending is presumed waste and inefficiency that will be above and beyond what would occur if the same project were bid to the same specifications at the state or local level, or if it were a private project. That obstacle, the very real concern that federal dollars don’t give you as much bang for the buck as they should, is one of the objections most responsible for the much-discussed federal infrastructure-omnibus bill.

I agree with Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council President Dan Bukiewicz that the federal government should make a significant investment in infrastructure. Where he and I part ways is the reason and details of the investment. While family-sustaining, good-paying jobs are an admirable, and very achievable, goal for those in the trades, adding artificial costs borne by taxpayers to pad a union boss’ bottom line is a recipe for disaster.

It reminds me of a quote attributed to the economist Milton Friedman. When he was told by a bureaucrat that a canal builder was using hand shovels instead of tractors because “it was a jobs program,” Friedman responded, “Oh, I thought you were trying to build a canal. If it’s jobs you want, then you should give these workers spoons, not shovels.”

The purpose of any significant federal infrastructure investment is to literally build America, not make work. Americans work hard for their paychecks, and the federal government should work as hard as possible to create the greatest return on that taxpayer investment. The best first step is to reduce costly and ineffective regulations, like the federal Davis Bacon program. As reported last week by the independent Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, Davis Bacon artificially raises taxpayers’ costs by limiting competition, just as Wisconsin’s prevailing-wage law did before it was repealed.

Davis-Bacon has stymied competition in federal contracting for nearly 100 years, and it is not going to be easy to repeal. However, Wisconsin is doing its part, sending strong Davis-Bacon opponents like Ron Johnson, Glenn Grothman and Tom Tiffany to Congress in recent years.

If Davis-Bacon is eliminated, projects will be awarded through a fair and competitive bidding system that allows all qualified contractors to compete on a level playing field according to their ability to provide quality, experience and safety. Or put another way, according to thier merit. When it comes to so many types of investment, study after study shows it’s not just h–ow much money you spend, it’s how you spend it. Wisconsin’s, and our nation’s, families need to be assured that government will spend their hard-earned tax dollars wisely and as effectively as possible with real reform before Congress starts writing more and bigger checks for a broken system.

– State Sen. Andre Jacque is a Republican from De Pere representing Wisconsin’s 1st State Senate District.

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