Lawmakers to consider changes to state construction pay

Bill would make Belgian Booyah Wisconsin’s state soup

State lawmakers will consider changes this week to how construction workers are paid on some projects in Wisconsin.

The law is called the “prevailing wage,” which was passed in 1933.

A state Senate committee will consider repealing the law in a hearing Tuesday.

The issue is important, because it affects how much construction trades workers are paid on public projects like roads, schools, and university or state buildings. Those projects make up about 20 percent of the total construction work in the state.

In simple terms, the prevailing wage is the required rate construction trades workers are paid on the job based on what the majority of workers doing that job are paid in that county.

But it’s whether or not that wage is fair or inflated that has divided some contractors and politicians.

“We do quality projects in the private sector every day, and the application of prevailing wage does not somehow make them better, safer or stronger,” said John Mielke, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.

Mielke argues that the prevailing wage artificially inflates local construction costs, pointing to a Wisconsin Taxpayer’s Alliance study the group commissioned to find out whether the prevailing wage was comparable to what is considered fair market rates.

But the Wisconsin Construction Coalition argued that the prevailing wage ensures quality work and sets out a policy to protect taxpayers.

“You have to ask yourself if you’re going to get on a bridge or get in a high rise, who do you want to build that building?” said Steve Lyons, spokesman for the coalition. “Someone very highly trained with skills, or the cheapest, lowest bid?”

Lyons points to a memo put out by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau that says among state projects, it is undetermined whether repealing the wage would save the state any money.

Tuesday morning, the bill to repeal the prevailing wage goes before the Senate labor committee. Based on comments from lawmakers on that committee, it seems that bill is likely to fail. But legislators are considering other changes to how the wage is calculated or to which projects it might apply.