Wisconsin

Revisiting the Champions of Prevailing Wage Reform

Repealing the prevailing wage law in Wisconsin has been a battle for Republicans since the planning of the 2015-17 state budget, and in the last budget, was successfully repealed. Over the years, repealing prevailing wage was met with opposition from both sides, including figures like Speaker Robin Vos, who stripped State Representative Andre Jacque from his Assembly committee chairmanships after he held a hearing on the issue. In the last session Media Trackers covered eight pivotal people that helped partially repeal the prevailing wage law, and revisit the list with advent of complete repeal.

The prevailing wage laws according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation were, ” Laws enacted to discourage awarding public works contracts to low balling employers who underbid local employers by paying workers substantially less than normally received by workers in an area.” While it aimed at making sure the wages paid to construction workers were competitive with those surrounding an area, many argued that this law inflated the cost of public construction projects, and without it would saves taxpayers and the state money.

Media Trackers again recognizes Rep. Rob Hutton, Senator Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Sen. Duey Stroebel, Senator Leah Vukmir, Senator Steve Nass, Representative Andre Jacque and Governor Scott Walker,

Rep. Rob Hutton-R, co-sponsored the full repeal bill that was introduced in April, and remained supportive and engaged about moving the bill forward throughout the whole process. He continually stressed how repealing prevailing wage would save taxpayers and the state money, such as in a usnews.com article:

Prevailing wage requirements increase the costs of building projects by 10 to 15 percent. A 2015 analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau said research on the impact of prevailing wage laws on construction costs is “mixed and inconclusive,” with findings ranging from small cost savings to insignificant differences.

Representative Andre Jacque was also crucial in the process of fully repealing the prevailing wage laws, even facing opposition from fellow republican Robin Vos, who stripped him of his Assembly committee chairmanship after he held a hearing on the matter. Media Trackers covered this back in 2016, where Jacque spoke the situation:

“He basically said that there needs to be an example set. My decision to hold the hearing on prevailing wage reform was something that he strongly disagreed with and that there needed to be a punishment. It’s not unexpected in terms of what came about. It’s something that, I understand from my colleagues, that he communicated to the rest of the conference. It has been communicated by the Speaker that if others were to act similarly to what I did this past session that your chairmanship would be removed immediately.”

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald was also largely involved in repealing the prevailing wage laws, as he included the laws in the budget plan, and then forwarded the budget to the assembly. He was an avid supporter throughout the process, as seen in a press release:

“I am thrilled that the Senate has continued to lead on labor reforms in Wisconsin. From the passage of Right to Work to the repeal of the prevailing wage for local governments, we have taken great strides in encouraging open markets and removing government policies that artificially drive up costs. This measure removes one more barrier to competition and helps us guarantee that our taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently.”

Sen. Duey Stroebel(R)- Stroebel called repealing prevailing wage his “first priority” after being elected senator, and continued to push even after the partial reform in the 2015-2017 budget. Stroebel was also one of the three senators who withheld their votes on the budget, until Governor Walker agreed to veto certain provisions. One of provisions was a partial veto that “implemented an immediate repeal of prevailing wage on state projects, as opposed to the September 1, 2018, effective date,” according to a press release from the three senators. This action of withholding their votes was also criticized heavily by Vos who likened them to “terrorists,” but has since apologized.

Governor Walker also was influential in repealing the prevailing wage laws, as it was included in the budget, and showed his support throughout the process. Walker voiced his belief that repealing the laws would strengthen competition in construction. While Walker was visiting Lemonweir Elementary School WEAU 13 news spoke with Walker on the subject:

“Anybody else, if you build a piece of infrastructure in this state you’re not obligated to provide a fixed price. You go out to compete and whoever can provide the highest quality at the most reasonable price is the one who wins that and we think that should apply to the taxpayers’ dollars.”

Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) – Vukmir, who sits on the powerful Joint Finance Committee, was a strong voice for prevailing wage repeal and the lead Senate author of the legislation. Both inside and outside of the Capitol she made the case for reform.

Sen. Steve Nass(R) – Chairing the Senate Committee on Labor, Nass held the first committee hearing on prevailing wage repeal. Thanks to the moderate Sen. Howard Marklein (R), the bill didn’t get a majority vote in his committee but Nass nevertheless flanked union supporters of prevailing wage by holding the hearing.

Senator Frank Lasee R) – Lasee formulated a compromise that ultimately became the reform plan put in the state budget. To cobble together enough support in the state Senate, Lasee’s plan kept prevailing wage in place at the state level, but completely eliminated it for local government and eliminated the complicated reporting and calculating requirements that went along prevailing wage.

 

This post has been updated.

 

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