There are plenty of unanswered questions, regarding a Republican bill to repeal Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law. At a Capitol press conference on Wednesday, Assembly sponsor, Representative Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) was asked to explain how repealing the state’s prevailing wage law will result in savings to taxpayers.
“It will require savings coming from a broader populace of participants,” Hutton said. “So expanding participation amongst bidders on public projects will alone drive down costs for those projects.” A study by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance found that state and local governments would have saved $200 to $300 million in 2014 by paying “market-based” wages on taxpayer financed construction projects. The study was commissioned by the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin.
Hutton said that repealing the prevailing wage law would allow more local and minority businesses to bid on taxpayer financed projects. He said the complexity of regulatory provisions in the law discourages many firms from even putting out bids.
Proponents claim that the savings to taxpayers can be accomplished without driving down wages, but Assembly minority leader Peter Barca argues that’s precisely the point of the bill. “Their whole idea is that if they can just pay people less, that somehow the taxpayers will save more on projects, which I’m not convinced of to begin with,” Barca said. “But clearly they would accomplish the goal of driving down wages.”
Hutton said Wednesday that it remained still unclear whether this will be a stand-alone bill, or if it instead will be folded into the state budget at some point. “There are a lot of those discussions happening right now with leadership in both chambers, to figure out where this is at in terms of our priorities, and whether it is going to go through a public hearing process or potentially be incorporated into the budget,” he said.
“I think it would be an enormous disservice if they were to hide this into a budget, like they so often do,” said Barca. “Already the governor has literally hundreds of discrete items in this budget that are of policy significance.”