Opponents to changes in prevailing wage and pension contributions in the biennial budget asked lawmakers Friday to not completely scrap the provisions but rather consider them as separate legislation.
Witnesses testifying during the final day of House hearings on the budget bill (HB 153) advocated that the changes be removed from the legislation and seemed to have members from both side of the aisle agreeable.
The governor’s budget proposal would raise the threshold amount for which local governments must pay prevailing wage from the current $78,000 to $5 million, exempt state-assisted universities from paying prevailing wage on construction projects, and exclude from the requirement both private and public projects that previously were covered because they were financed with grants from the Department of Development.
Joseph D’Angelo, an attorney with D’Angelo & Szollosi Co., told members of the House Finance & Appropriations Committee reviewing the budget that the changes do not belong in the budget bill because prevailing wage requirements in public construction is not a “statistically significant” factor affecting project cost.
“The proposed prevailing wage amendments have no impact on either the state’s budget or on the construction budgets of state, county and local bodies,” he said.
Mr. D’Angelo added that prevailing wage enforcement activities are also insignificant because between 2006 and 2010, of the tens of thousands of public improvement projects, an average of 320 prevailing wage complaints were filed each year.
Four members of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Ohio testified as a group against changes to prevailing wage law.
J.K. Williams said the threshold change from $78,000 to $5 million would “essentially repeal” the law, and elimination of prevailing wage takes away the long-term ability of the union and open shop contractors to privately train their workforce.
Sam Halker, MCAO vice chairman, said, “By driving down the construction wage you are writing the invitations to Michigan, Indiana and Kentucky to have our jobs and the businesses that employ them.”
MCAO chairman Howard Risher said reforms are needed to make prevailing wage work better for Ohio, but legislators must give the topics a thorough examination before voting on them.
Rep. John Patrick Carney (D-Columbus) said the witness’ testimony and what the committee has heard over the last couple hearings, “demonstrates a need to take this out of this piece of legislation and have more full and robust debate on this issue.”
Rep. Nancy Garland (D-New Albany) voiced the same sentiment. “We all agree, I think it sounds like, that there are definitely parts of this that we can look at.”
Mr. Williams responded to Ms. Garland when he said, “We are very, very agreeable to helping create reform outside of the budget.”
Rep. Ross McGregor (R-Springfield) asked if a separate bill on prevailing wage could be enacted quickly.
“I feel that there are reforms that are needed to help make Ohio a more competitive place to do business, but I do have concern that they’re so technical that we need to take the time to do it right; I just don’t want to take too much time,” he said.
Mr. Williams said he believes the changes could be accomplished in “short order.”
When asked by Rep. Robert Mecklenborg (R-Cincinnati) about a preferred change in threshold, Mr. Williams suggested raising the level to $100,000 or $150,000.
Luther Liggett, shareholder with Luper, Neidenthal & Logan Attorneys, said the process of prevailing wage is flawed. “We need to fix it,” he said and suggested legislators consider it in a separate bill so it can be fully debated.
Terry Estes, project manager for J&B Steel, also voiced opposition to the prevailing wage changes and said because of the complexity of the issue, it should be addressed separately, “giving ample time to study and discuss the full impact such changes would have on our business and our communities.”