LIMA — State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, visited the Allen County commissioners Thursday morning to ask the county to pass a resolution declaring support for his bill in the General Assembly that would allow political subdivisions to exempt themselves from the requirements of prevailing wage law.
Huffman, sponsor of Senate Bill 72, introduced the bill more than a year ago, and it has lingered in the Senate Finance Committee since March 2017. A companion House Bill has been introduced by State Rep. Craig Riedel, R-Defiance.
Prevailing wage law currently requires any construction done by a public entity pay a wage set by the state, which tends to be higher than the wage a construction worker may receive on a private project. The result, Huffman said, are construction projects that are on average 20 percent higher than what a job would cost without the state mandate.
Huffman’s bill would eliminate that mandate. Huffman said because of the lower costs of construction projects, the county could then pass on those savings to fund other public services, such as infrastructure improvements, or increases in wages for its own employees.
School district constructions are already exempt from prevailing wage laws, which is why some union representatives can sometimes be seen in Lima’s Town Square “shaming” certain school districts.
“We’re forced to pay big-city prices because the state mandates it,” Huffman said. “The other problem is a lot of projects simply aren’t being done.”
The bill wouldn’t effect projects currently funded by state and federal tax dollars. Instead, it would allow public municipalities, such as Allen County, to forego paying prevailing wage when funding their own construction projects.
Allen County Commissioner Jay Begg said the county would use the exemption if Huffman’s bill passed. Begg said the inefficient administrative costs that come with prevailing wage projects is one of the reasons. With the state mandate, construction contractors must juggle multiple variables regarding pay ranges when tracking the costs of the project.
“It’s a complicated process, and I think we need to use our tax dollars better,” Begg said.
Lima Building and Construction Trades Council President Mike Knisley said both Begg and Huffman have trumpeted this bill in the past, which would take wages away from construction workers. Knisley said that studies have shown in the past that eliminating prevailing wage laws nets zero savings.
“Commissioner Begg and Sen. Huffman are turning their backs on the hard-working men and women, union and non-union, in the construction industry,” Knisley said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.