Bills of Note: Prevailing Wage Repeal

Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) and Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) introduced a bill, SB 216, on April 20 that would repeal Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws. Gov. Scott Walker had originally included the repeal in his 2017-19 state budget, but the Joint Finance Committee removed the provision as a non-fiscal policy item.

Prevailing wage laws currently on the books in Wisconsin set minimum salaries for workers on state construction projects. Last session, the legislature repealed prevailing wages on local government projects. This session’s SB 216 would expand the repeal to eliminate prevailing wage on state construction projects. Projects that use $2,000 or more in federal funds would still be subject to federal prevailing wage laws.

The Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform held a six-hour public hearing on the bill on Monday, April 24. Sen. Vukmir and Rep. Hutton argued that prevailing wage requirements artificially increase costs of construction projects. These requirements cost the state and localities up to $300 million in 2014, according to a Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance study. Supporters of the bill, including Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin and Americans for Prosperity, said that prevailing wage requirements shut out non-union workers and discourage private firms from bidding on state construction projects due, in part, to the difficulty in complying with complicated prevailing wage regulations. Repealing prevailing wage would increase competition, lower costs and create opportunities for more construction projects and jobs. Other states that have repealed prevailing wage have seen significant savings and no decrease in workmanship quality, supporters said.

Opponents of the bill included Labor and Regulatory Reform Committee Democrats, the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO and union members from across the state. Opponents testified that repealing prevailing wage requirements would drive down wages and thus reduce the quality, safety and efficiency of construction projects. They argued that the bill would allow out-of-state construction firms to underbid Wisconsin firms, leading to layoffs.

The Senate committee is set to vote on the bill in executive session on May 2.