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April 15, 2013

Legislators eye changes to prevailing wage law

HARRISBURG — A state law that sets the rate paid to laborers inflates the price tag on government construction projects by 10-17 percent, local government and school leaders said at a Monday rally in Harrisburg.

The prevailing wage law kicks in at $25,000, meaning almost every construction project qualifies.

The Pennsylvania prevailing wage ceiling was set in 1961 and has not been increased since. Snyder County Commissioner Joe Kantz said that if the ceiling was adjusted for inflation, the prevailing wage would not be triggered until a project’s cost exceeded $190,000.

There are several bills that have been introduced to address the concerns about prevailing wage. A bill introduced Monday would raise the ceiling that triggers prevailing wage to $500,000. Another bill introduced earlier this year would have voters in each county vote on whether to use prevailing wage.

Lewisburg Area School District board president Kathy Swope compared the situation to having neighbors get the same kitchen renovation project completed. But one neighbor paid $40,000 for the work and another paid $30,000.

“How would you react if you had to pay $10,000 more than your neighbor?” she asked. “But that happens every day in Pennsylvania.”

Swope represented the Pennsylvania School Board Association at the rally. She said that the Department of Education has estimated that Pennsylvania schools have done $7 billion in construction over the last decade. Using the 10-percent impact of prevailing wage, the law cost taxpayers an extra $700 million, she said.

Government officials said they get no discernible advantage by having to pay extra.

Kantz said that when he asked a contractor about prevailing wage, the man replied “with a twinkle in his eye,” that it only meant he might work a little slower.

Snyder County replaced every window in the county courthouse in Middleburg at a cost of $135,000 in 2010. Then, masonry work in 2011 cost the county $55,411 and roof repairs in 2012 cost another $131,950. County officials estimate that the extra cost due to prevailing wage amounted to about $59,000 – enough to pay the bill for an exterior painting project the county wants to complete this year, Kantz said.

In Lewisburg, the school district is spending about $100,000 to boost security after the Newtown, Conn., shooting. Swope said the project will cost about $23,000 more than it would without prevailing wage. The prevailing wage impact is greater because more of the price tag is associated with labor, Swope said.

Danville Borough Council President Betty Ann Moyer said that prevailing wage represents the single most burdensome unfunded mandate faced by local government.

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is not a union or anti-union issue,” Moyer said. “This is a taxpayer’s issue.”

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