Opinion

Time to reconsider the prevailing wage system

An editorial from the Charleston Daily Mail 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An old system of determining wages for workers on government projects is in the news again, as repeal of West Virginia’s prevailing wage laws moves from the Government Organization Committee to the full Senate.

Under current law, workers are paid at predetermined hourly rates, set by the state Division of Labor, for work on state-funded construction projects. Contractors who bid on state projects must agree to pay employees those amounts.

The rules are detailed and very specific. A drywall hanger in Pendleton County gets $26.45 an hour, plus $15.40 in fringe benefits. A tile setter in Kanawha County gets $29.07 an hour and $20.82 in fringe benefits.

Paging through the detailed rules raises the question of how much the state is spending on salaries for the bureaucrats who calculate and recalculate these numbers.

Reformers say ending the prevailing wage system will save the state money, put more people to work, and make it easier for communities to get the roads, schools and infrastructure improvements they need. They say too many projects are stalled because they’re prohibitively expensive at government-mandated labor rates.

On the other hand, defenders of prevailing wage laws — while vigorously opposing any change — say that repealing them won’t have any effect on state finances.

Both sides cite studies that they claim are authoritative. Neither side has ironclad proof of its view. But beyond the dueling studies, the larger question is: Do government-mandated wage structures make sense in a modern economy…

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