Budget debate: Senate votes 17-16 to repeal state's prevailing wage law

MADISON -- The state Senate has passed a rollback of the state's prevailing wage law, which sets minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects.

The Senate voted 17-16 on Tuesday to repeal the law for all local government projects like those done by school districts and municipalities, while keeping it in place for state projects. The changes also replace state salary levels for the federal prevailing wage scale.

Republicans argued for eliminating the prevailing wage, saying it artificially inflates salaries paid to workers at the expense of taxpayers and freezes out smaller contractors.

But Democrats and unions oppose changing the law, saying it will lower wages and hurt the middle class. Democratic Sen. Chris Larson, of Milwaukee, calls it a kick in the teeth to Wisconsin workers.

Senator Duey Stroebel (R-Cedarburg) issued the following statement on the repeal of prevailing wage:

"Prevailing wage repeal has been my priority since taking office in April. Like Act 10, the repeal of prevailing wage provides another tool for local governments to be good stewards of our valued taxpayer resources. As a Senator, my job is to ensure Wisconsin’s tax climate improves. Wisconsin’s reputation as a high-tax state is not acceptable. I will continue to stand up to special interests in order to protect both taxpayers and Wisconsin’s future economic success.

I would especially like to thank Senators Frank Lasee, Steve Nass, and Leah Vukmir for their steadfast support and energy during the prevailing wage debate. While the process to gain support for repeal has been arduous, I am proud to stand with my Senate caucus having done the right thing to save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

I am hopeful the Assembly will also do the right thing and repeal this antiquated requirement."

Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) released the following statement:

“Senate Republicans have led again – this time on prevailing wage.  While the process has taken longer than we expected, the results were worth the wait.  By working closely with stakeholders, our caucus was able to reach the strongest reform possible rather than a weaker half measure.

I have been a proponent of full repeal throughout this process, but I understand that this compromise represents the best path to a full repeal in the future while achieving some immediate relief for taxpayers starting in 2017.

I remain confident that local governments will continue to competently manage their projects and provide a blueprint for a full statewide repeal in the future.”

Senator Frank Lasee (R-De Pere) issued the following statement:

“Senate Republicans are again leading to pass big, bold reforms of government.  By including my conservative prevailing wage reform into the state budget today, my colleagues and I ensure that taxpayers will save hundreds of millions of dollars moving forward.  It was a long and winding road and we proved today that meaningful and lasting reform is possible.

The Lasee Plan added to the budget today includes:   

1)      Repeal for all local governments, technical colleges, schools, and municipal utilities

2)     Uses federal rates on state projects

3)     Removes the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) from administering the state prevailing wage – eliminating 4 positions, a $358,000 savings

This plan will reduce costs for local governments, simplify the process for businesses, and systemically change current law saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

I especially thank my colleagues, Majority Leader Fitzgerald and Senators Stroebel and Nass, for their efforts and leadership moving this big win for taxpayers forward.

Change is hard and harder still when going against the grain of strong interest groups. I’m proud of my colleagues for fighting for taxpayers and fully expect that we will see the same from the Assembly.”