Missouri House advocates school prevailing wage opt out

Feb 28, 2013

Credit KBIA

The Missouri House voted Wednesday and today to approve a house bill that allows rural schools to opt out of paying prevailing wage for public construction projects.

House Republicans and Democrats held opposite attitudes on the bill, but they bill got secondary approval and now is moving to the Senate.

Prevailing wage is a wage requirement meant to protect local construction industries when public construction projects are conducted.

However, Hallsville School District Superintendent John Robertson says having public institutions pay prevailing wages drives up costs for constructions.

“You know any opportunity to not pay that to pay less, would be able to bid that to the free market would certainly help with budgets,” Robertson said.

Growing up in a small community in rural Missouri, State Representative Casey Guernsey says he knows how hard it is for schools to keep paying prevailing wage. Guernsey says this bill not only helps small districts, but every single school district in Missouri.

“It doesn’t matter really what size the district you are, it’s just the fact that their construction and maintenance costs are tied to that prevailing wage, it’s so high,” Guernsey said. “It ties their hands, and makes it unable for them to make that necessary decision to make a maintenance repair or to build a new building whenever it needs to be done.”

But some Democrats in the House oppose the bill. State Representative Jacob Hummel says the bill has nothing useful at all and calls it a “No Foreign Worker Left Behind Act.”

“Primarily in southern states, where they do not have a prevailing wage law, where there’s no wage standard set that they have a large number of contractors that are undocumented that work on any project,” Hummel said. “And my fear is that they will travel to Missouri to start doing this work, because our local contractors will not be able to compete.”

Guernsey says the allegation is ridiculous, and adds that the bill wouldn’t welcome undocumented competitors from other states.

“That’s the most ridiculous amendment I’ve ever seen in my legislative career, it is not even worse acknowledging,” Guernsey said.

Guernsey says in a couple of weeks, the House is going to debate the budget. He says people that opponents to the construction bill would appeal to give more money to schools.

“Listen, there’s a number of ways we can help districts with funding, and it doesn’t always necessarily mean increasing revenues,” Guernsey said. “We can save tax payers’ money by implementing good commons in legislations like this one to save the money. And that’s just as good if not better in my opinion.”

Hummel says the bill just got its second-approval today (Thursday), and has sent out to the Senate. He says he hopes the bill dies in the Senate. Guernsey says he’s pretty optimistic that the Senate would pick the same position considering they have a majority of Republicans.