Results of prevailing wage changes will take time

An editorial from The Journal       

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Changing West Virginia’s prevailing wage law would save state and local government entities, including school boards, millions of dollars a year, advocates of such action were saying earlier this year.

Opponents countered that change would put thousands of men and women in unemployment lines and result in shoddy work on public projects. Besides, they added, it wouldn’t save any money.

We’ll see.

After weeks of sometimes bitter controversy and an enormous amount of personal pressure on lawmakers, the Legislature approved amendments to the prevailing wage law. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the measure, which became effective this week.

Under the old law, local and state governments with public works projects were required to use contractors paying employees wage rates prevailing in their areas. But the rates were calculated by the state Department of Labor, and critics said they were substantially higher than actual prevailing wages. That cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year unnecessarily, it was argued.

Lawmakers hope the new system results in more realistic prevailing wage calculations. The numbers will be crunched by economists from West Virginia and Marshall universities.

Their time to work is limited; the law contains a July deadline for prevailing wage rates to be ready. It can be extended to Sept. 30.

Another change is likely to save substantial amounts of money. It removes projects costing $500,000 or less from the prevailing wage rule.

It will be interesting to see how the changes affect both taxpayer-funded projects and the working men and women who complete them.

To give legislators guidance in similar controversies in the future, WVU and Marshall economists should look at public works contracts in an attempt to determine if money is being saved, working people are affected adversely or the quality of projects declines.

In, say, two years, legislators should ask for a report on results of the prevailing wage change. It may give them some idea of what the truth is – and where they can place their trust when other controversial issues come up in the future.

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