Prevailing Wage Repeal Set for Senate Vote Thursday
On a party-line vote Monday, members of the Senate Committee on Government Organization approved a bill to repeal the state's prevailing wage. It was reported to the floor Monday as well, setting it up for a vote Thursday.
The prevailing wage is the rate of hourly pay and benefits workers are paid on state funded construction projects.
In 2015, the new GOP majority proposed a repeal, but compromised with Democrats instead approving a recalculation of the wage rate. A year later, lawmakers are once again debating a repeal and controversy has followed the proposal every step of the way.
In the House, a public hearing drew more than a dozen speakers, only two of which were in support of the repeal. Since it's passage in that chamber, the opposition has continued to speak loudly against it.
Three West Virginia contractors were among those naysayers. The three, including Glen Jefferies of Cornerstone Industries, spoke against the repeal during a Senate Government Organization Committee meeting Monday.
“I am asking that we work together with the individuals who represent this industry and find a fair answer that is good for the West Virginia taxpayer, the West Virginia contractor and the West Virginia construction worker,” Jefferies told the committee. “We need to keep a prevailing wage here in West Virginia.”
Jefferies and others opposed to the repeal say it will cut workers' wages and increase the rates of workplace fatalities, but supporters say those claims are false. Del. Gary Howell said Monday taxpayers won't see savings in the form of wage cuts to workers, but in the decreased cost of government oversight.
"There's a massive amount of paperwork dealing with the prevailing wage and its scared off a lot of contractors," Howell said.
"In the brief time [last summer] that the prevailing wage was repealed, we're seeing a lot of small, in-state contractors that never had the staff to deal with prevailing wage plus these contractors also have lower overhead, they are passing those savings on to the taxpayer."
Democrats pushed Wednesday for a fiscal note, an attachment to a bill that explains the impact a piece of legislation will have on the state’s budget, and a second reference to the Committee on Finance to prove the savings, but both efforts were denied.
The bill will be on first reading Tuesday and likely up for a vote in the chamber Thursday.