WV Center on Budget and Policy releases prevailing wage report
By Mandy Cardosi, The State Journal
State Republican leaders are considering a repeal of West Virginia's long-standing prevailing wage law.
Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, introduced a similar bill last year, and Cole said he still believes repealing the legislation is the right thing to do. Cole said he doesn't believe having a prevailing wage bill is "being a proper steward of taxpayer dollars.”
However, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, a left-leaning think tank, issued a report Jan. 28, “West Virginia's Prevailing Wage: Good for Business, Good for Workers,” claiming state lawmakers are trying to “solve a problem that doesn't exist.”
Cole's measure currently awaiting debate in the Senate Labor Committee. It was set to be discussed, but was removed from the committee's agenda Jan. 20.
West Virginia's prevailing wage has been in place since the 1930s and provides a minimum wage and benefit level for construction workers performing work on public projects. Some lawmakers have said the elimination of the bill would save the state money, allowing contractors to cut wages in order to lower their bids on state construction projects.
“The evidence clearly shows that West Virginia's prevailing wage law is not only a good deal for the state's construction workers, but for the taxpayers as well,” said Sean O'Leary, fiscal policy analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and author of the report. “When it comes to public construction, you get what you pay for. Research consistently shows any hypothetical cost savings from paying lower wages is lost to lower productivity."
Thirty-two states, including West Virginia, set a prevailing wage for state-funded construction projects in order to ensure jobs are given to qualified workers from the community. The jobs were meant to increase worker productivity while boosting the area's economy.
The Center on Budget and Policy report claims:
| Some studies have shown prevailing wage laws do not raise public construction costs; instead the impact of higher wages on costs is compensated by the positive effect on productivity.
| West Virginia's school construction costs are lower than surrounding states, including Virginia, which does not have a prevailing wage law and Ohio, which exempts school construction from its prevailing wage law.
| Construction workers in West Virginia work an average of 1,760 hours per year, and using wage rates from the Occupational and Employment Statistics data rather than the current prevailing wage rates would result in poverty-level incomes for many construction occupations.
| The repeal of prevailing wage laws leads to less workforce training, less experience in the workforce, higher injury rates, lower health and pension coverage and lower wages.