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Politics & Government

Republican Legislators Propose an End to Prevailing Wages in Wisconsin

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Wisconsin's prevailing wage has long set minimum salaries for workers on public projects. The last state budget ended the requirement for local government projects, now a couple legislators want to eliminate prevailing wages for state construction work.

During a state Senate committee hearing on the issue Monday, the pivot point seemed to move between concern for middle-class skilled workers and for taxpayers.

GOP Representative Rob Hutton co-sponsored the standalone bill, after legislators stripped the prevailing wage repeal out of Governor Walker's budget - deeming it a policy matter, not a fiscal one. Hutton says he does not think it’s wise for Wisconsin to demand a minimum salary for all those who work on state construction projects.

“If you and I are concerned about middle class jobs, middle class wages, family-sustaining jobs within the construction industry, then I think we have to look at it and say, is government fulfilling its mandate to allow the marketplace to create its own demand. And if so, how are we making sure that all employees are able to equally participate,” Hutton asks.

Hutton insists his plan to scrap the prevailing wage will also hold down costs for taxpayers.  Eric Bott agrees.  He’s with the group, Americans for Prosperity.  Bott says the change would free up money to complete more state projects.

“The evidence is clear and obvious, and it should come as no surprise. Repealing a prevailing wage reduces construction costs both directly, by eliminating super inflated hyper-wages and indirectly, by increasing competition,” he says.

Worker unions and others who prefer the prevailing wage, claim it will erode the middle class and send skilled workers looking for jobs out-of-state. Leroy Miller is a construction worker and a veteran, and says there are others like him.

"My kids get a glorious thing; they get the G-I Bill in Wisconsin if we stay here because I was a resident when I joined the military. I want them to be here so I can have that assistance for them to go to school and get a higher education and use the G-I Bill the state provides for them. But if I have to leave, I have to also give that up, and I don’t want to do that. I want to be in Wisconsin, and I want to be treated right because it’s my turn to be treated right. It’s going to hurt everybody if it goes the wrong way," Miller says.

Another person who brings the plight of veterans into the prevailing wage debate is Democratic state Senator Janis Ringhand.

“The reason for contracting with military at this stage is because of the training they receive and the discipline they have that’s so good for our workers in this state. Hard work, ethics, that’s important to us. And if we’re going to be losing people to save seven-and-a-half percent roughly in money, where’s the trade off? I don’t see it,” Ringhand says.

Wisconsin adopted its prevailing wage rules more than 85 years ago.

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