Senators David McBride, Margaret Rose Henry and Nicole Poore
Published 2:07 p.m. ET July 21, 2017
Updated 2:33 p.m. ET July 21, 2017
The 2017 budget debate is behind us, and plenty of page space in this publication and others has been committed to its finer details. We’re perplexed, though, by how much of the Republican dialogue continues to be dominated by an issue completely peripheral to the budget: the prevailing wage paid to blue-collar workers on public works projects.
Partisan misinformation has clouded the truth surrounding both the budget and the prevailing wage. We believe that the public deserves a discussion that cuts through political spin and cocktail napkin math and offers a straightforward inventory of the facts.
Prevailing wage laws ensure fairness in government contracts by basing laborers’ total compensation on a survey of similar workers in their area, just as anyone would expect wages commensurate with their skills, occupation, and cost of living.
You may have heard some of the following myths:
Myth: The prevailing wage is a budget issue that affects the $354 million deficit closed by the General Assembly earlier this month.
Fact: Public works projects are funded almost entirely by the capital budget, or “bond bill,” a completely separate balance sheet. Our operating deficit was caused by a unique combination of factors: growing public school enrollment, special education costs, national health care prices, and a tax portfolio that works more like a scratch-off ticket than a speedometer for our economy. Our colleagues across the aisle who sit on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee are perfectly aware of that fact.
Myth: Reducing or repealing the prevailing wage would lower public construction costs by as much as 24 percent.
Fact: Multiple studies and real-world examples show that this is simply untrue. States that slash public works wages rarely realize the cost savings that are promised in campaign years, while middle class wages tumble and the economy suffers. That actually does hurt the state’s bottom line.