By Collin Reischman
Jefferson City, Mo. — A hearing for the Senate Committee on Small Business, Insurance and Industry Tuesday was the site of a contentious debate on prevailing wage laws.
Senate Bill 30, sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown, R-16, would repeal the Missouri prevailing wage law, which establishes a minimum wage that can be paid to workers for public projects.
Brown said his bill was intended to begin a conversation among legislators and “find something that can work for both sides.” Brown implied he would be open to a compromise that did not involve complete repeal.
Testimony during the committee meeting was overwhelmingly in opposition of the legislation.
Emily Ashinger-Martin, President of Ashinger Electric, said adding requirements for contractors to submit detailed reports of what they pay their employees would be a better solution than the repeal of the law.
“If we are reporting what we pay our workers in public projects, and that information is accessible, then a determination can be made,” Ashinger-Martin said. “But just getting rid of the law is going to drastically affect wages and work quality.”
Ashinger-Martin said eliminating prevailing wage would bring out-of-state contractors into Missouri who would undercut the wages of local workers in order to get public contracts.
“We can protect the local bidding process and keep this business in the state,” Ashinger-Martin said. “If that local bidding process is open, then we can still get work done at a cost-effective rate.”
Greg Hoebrock, Chairman of Associated Builders and Contractors, testified in support of the bill. According to Hoebrock, some of the recent work done throughout Joplin, Mo., to rebuild school buildings could have been done for less money but the prevailing wage requirements stipulating a certain rate of pay increased the cost to the taxpayer.
“For the exact same work, same company and quality and employees, Joplin could have completed the project for $81,000 less,” Hoberock said. “I think the savings speak for themselves.”
Hoberock said prevailing wage was frequently abused, and contractors used the law to pad their own bottom line, rather than pay their workers.
Brown said he was open to revisions of the bill, which is not expected to be voted out of committee for a few weeks.
Collin Reischman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @CReischman.