Prevailing wage law a burden on W.Va.

An editorial from The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — There is not much argument against the idea that contractors for public works projects in West Virginia ought to pay workers the wage rates prevailing in their areas.

But whether the state’s law aimed at requiring that is a good thing is another story.

Some Republicans in the Legislature have said they want to repeal the prevailing wage law, enacted during the 1930s.

On its face, the law seems to require only what the free market already does reasonably efficiently. That is, the statute requires that local and state governments ensure contractors on public works projects pay employees roughly the same wages other people in their areas receive for certain types of work.

But how those wage rates are set is the problem. Critics of the requirement have said the mechanism used to set prevailing wage scales is not accurate. It results in contractors being locked into paying substantially more than wages actually prevailing in their areas, skeptics explain.

Studies have indicated that costs taxpayers – who fund public works projects – enormous sums unnecessarily. A 2013 report by the Anderson Economic Group of Michigan estimated the prevailing wage law costs West Virginians $224 million a year.

Think of all the good that much money could accomplish. If anything, it would be likely to provide more good jobs for Mountain State construction workers by freeing up money for more projects.

Opponents of repealing the law claim it would result in shoddy work on public projects. They also say workers would be less safe.

Those contentions are not substantiated by experiences in states without prevailing wage laws. There are 18 of them, and none seems to have special problems with the quality of work or safety.

West Virginia’s prevailing wage law costs taxpayers dearly. It is a drain on both local and state budgets. It takes money that could be put to very good use for other purposes to benefit Mountain State residents. And, because it diverts scarce public funds, it actually results in fewer construction jobs being available.

Legislators should repeal the measure.

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