Prevailing wage bill clears first House hurdle

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — One of the most talked about bills this legislative session will next be taken up by the full House of Delegates after gaining approval of a House committee Wednesday.

It was standing-room-only in the House Government Organization Committee room Wednesday morning for the the bill (SB361) that would change the way the prevailing wage is calculated.

The measure, which has passed the Senate, would transfer the responsibility of determining the wage from the Division of Labor to WorkForce West Virginia and business experts from West Virginia University and Marshall.

The prevailing wage is used on publicly-financed projects. Supporters of the bill say the costs of those projects are often driven up by a high wage while opponents say changing the wage will cost jobs.

The committee passed the bill 17-8 but not before members of the Democratic minority spoke out against it.

“You know it! I know it! Everybody in this House knows that this is going to cut wages,” Delegate Mike Caputo (D-Marion) said looking to the union laborers who had packed the meeting room. “I’ve heard from as many companies as I have had workers saying this is going to put them out of business.”

Caputo and others said the changing the wage would open the projects to out-of-state companies who would possibly bring in undocumented workers.

“Cutting wages and allowing cheap contractors coming in from out of state, bringing in transient workers, working for minimum wage jobs is taking away the income and earning potential of all of these people out here,” Del. Isaac Sponaugle (D-Pendleton) said.

Supporters say a possible cheaper prevailing wage would actually mean saving money that could be used on additional public projects.

Opponents were unsuccessful in their attempts to amend the bill. They tried to remove or change the $500,000 threshold on the projects. The current bill says everything under that amount would not be required to follow the prevailing wage.

The committee did change the Senate bill placing a July 1 deadline on determining the prevailing wage under the new set-up or there would be no prevailing wage for that year.

West Virginia Contractors Association President Mike Clowser did tell the committee the new provision was concerning.

Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research Director Dr. Jennifer Shand told the committee the experts working on the wage would be able to get the information needed to help determine the wage.

“There would be a process of setting up the methodology or the mechanics of the calculation and then at that point for published data it’s a matter of acquiring the data, which usually is very easy to do so,” Shand said.

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