JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — With just seven votes to spare, legislation that would repeal Missouri’s prevailing wage laws was given approval by the House.
The bill, a House Committee Substitute for HBs 1729, 1621, 1436, would eliminate the requirement that contractors and subcontractors on public projects pay employees the prevailing wage where the project is being completed. Rep. Jeff Justus’ legislation would instead require workers to be paid the state or federal minimum wage, whichever is higher.
“It’s a bad bill,” said Rep. Kevin Engler, who was one of twenty Republicans that joined Democrats in an attempt to kill the legislation. He predicted the current version of the bill would not pass the Senate.
During perfection, Engler said the bill “does not help Missouri” and that it would “create a nightmare.”
“We have a bill that is backed by union and non-union contractors that represent a hundred thousand workers and we won’t hear it,” said Engler. “ And yet we have to vote on this.”
The bill he was advocating for would set the prevailing wage by county and eliminate the standard for some altogether.
Opponents say fully repealing prevailing wage would lower wages and be bad for construction workers. On the other hand, supporters of the bill argue that by repealing the law, the market would set the wage rate and cost of construction projects would decrease.
The debate got contentious when Rep. Jon Carpenter pressed Justus on what cost would actually go down.
“What part are you lowering the cost of? Are you lowering the cost of paint, the materials? Or are you lowering the cost of the wages?” asked Carpenter.
“It will bring the wages down,” said Justus.
As they continued the discussion, talking over each other at times, Justus portrayed lowering wages as a good thing, a move that would save taxpayer dollars by not setting artificial standards. Carpenter saw it as a bad thing.
Ultimately, the bill passed in an 89-62 vote — to pass the House, a bill needs 82 votes in favor — and now moves to the Senate. The upper body of the Missouri legislature is working on their own version of prevailing wage legislation, which falls short of a full repeal at the moment.
Alisha Shurr was a reporter for The Missouri Times and The Missouri Times Magazine. She joined The Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University.