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GOP leaders standing firm on prevailing wage flap

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Ian Hicks West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, speaks to Wheeling Rotary Club members Tuesday at WesBanco Arena.
Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Ian Hicks
West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, speaks to Wheeling Rotary Club members Tuesday at WesBanco Arena.

WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole said GOP leaders likely will introduce a repeal of the state’s prevailing wage on the first day of the 2016 legislative session if they remain unsatisfied with a state agency’s efforts to recalculate the wage.

There’s been a battle brewing since June between Republican lawmakers and WorkForce West Virginia, the state agency directed to calculate the new p revailing wage in conjunction with researchers from West Virginia and Marshall universities. GOP leaders said the agency’s methodology for calculating the wage didn’t rely heavily enough on federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data, but WorkForce West Virginia said the bureau doesn’t distinguish between residential and commercial construction workers, who typically are paid different wages.

Cole, in Wheeling on Tuesday to speak to Rotary Club members, said lawmakers aren’t backing down.

“I am hopeful that WorkForce West Virginia will reconsider their method of calculation,” Cole said. “If they can use the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers as we intended in the legislation, I think we can find a middle ground.”

Cole, a Mercer County Republican who’s announced plans to run for governor next year, said the new GOP majority “absolutely” had enough votes to repeal prevailing wage during this year’s session, but decided to take a more cautious approach. The bill they ultimately passed transferred responsibility for calculating the rate from the Division of Labor to WorkForce West Virginia, and exempted projects of less than $500,000 from the requirement.

The law directs the recalculation of the prevailing wage rate “as evidenced by all appropriate economic data, including, but not limited to, the average rate of wages published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the actual rate of wages paid in the regions of this state” to construction workers.

There is currently no prevailing wage in West Virginia, as the law provided for the requirement to lapse July 1 if the new wage had not been calculated. In June, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Government and Finance – comprised of nine Republicans and five Democrats – voted down an extension of the deadline to Sept. 30.

During his talk Tuesday, Cole recapped this year’s session, touching on prevailing wage, tort reform and the rollback of a 2014 bill enacting strict regulations on above-ground storage tanks.

He also recalled a portion of the inaugural address of Arthur Boreman, West Virginia’s first governor. He said Boreman’s priorities in 1863 and the issues West Virginia faces today are strikingly similar.

“Here we are, 150-some-odd years later, and we’re talking about education, we’re talking about jobs and we’re talking about infrastructure,” Cole said.

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