Approved: Assembly committee okays measure to eliminate prevailing wage law

MADISON -- The Assembly Labor Committee approved a measure that would eliminate Wisconsin's prevailing wage law. The committee voted Wednesday 5-4 with Republicans in favor advancing the bill. Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield) joined Democrats in voting against the measure.

Construction projects that go through a government bid are currently subject to Wisconsin's prevailing wage law. It is a minimum wage of sorts -- set by a survey of contractors around the state.

During a hearing in Madison on Wednesday, May 26th, defenders of the law say it guarantees workers will receive fair market pay.

"Their pay is not set by the government. It is an industry-determined wage. We`re competitive," Steve Breitlow with Plumbers Union Local 75 said.

Democrats say repealing the law would open the door for less reliable companies to win jobs with lower bids -- bids they can afford because they employ lower-paid, less-skilled workers.

"When you lower those standards, it takes longer and taxpayers get a poor product that`s gonna break down more quickly," Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) said.

"There are still a lot of standards that are put in place that won`t go away just because we repeal prevailing wage," Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) said.

Critics of the law also argue the state's involvement artificially drives up costs.

Hartford's Common Council President Tim Michalak testified the prevailing wage law cost his city more money on a street repair project.

"This was an actual case wherein the taxpayers of Hartford were forced to pay a contractor more than he had asked for, merely due to the prevailing wage law," Michalak said.

An initial push to repeal the law died when the vote failed in a Senate committee -- but this week, Rep. Andre Jacque (R-De Pere), chairman of the Assembly Labor Committee called for another hearing.

"We realize this is a significant opportunity for us to provide real savings to our local units of government and I think the momentum has just been building in the Assembly, in particular," Sen. Vukmir said.

While both sides pointed to various studies, the state's non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau did its own study. It found the impact of prevailing wage laws on construction costs is mixed and inconclusive.

The committee chairman Rep. Andre Jacque says he'd like to see a repeal added to the state budget later this week.

Republican leaders in the Senate and the Assembly have said they don't have the votes to pass the measure on its own.

A spokeswoman for Governor Walker's office says if a repeal does pass, Walker would sign the bill.