Competitive Wages Would Mean More Jobs
9/23/2013

By State Rep. Greg Lucas (R-Erie/Crawford)

If you could hire a person to do a job for less than $20 per hour, would you turn around and pay that same person more than double that, or $40 per hour?  Neither would I.  But local governments, school districts and counties across Pennsylvania do it all the time.  And they do it with your tax money.

Before you grab your torches and pitchforks to storm the nearest municipal building, you should know that it’s not their fault.  They are forced to pay more for labor through a little-known state provision called “prevailing wage.”

This decades-old law forces local governments, school districts and counties to pay the prevailing wage – a much higher pay scale – on projects that cost more than $25,000.  Of course, most projects these days cost more than that.  Heck, a new car can cost a lot more than $25,000.  So most roads repaired by counties and local municipalities are fixed under prevailing wage restrictions.

There is a bill in the state House that would increase the threshold for these projects to $100,000, which would help save local taxpayers money.

But we could go even further.  There is legislation under consideration in Harrisburg that would exempt road and bridge maintenance projects from the prevailing wage provision.  Instead, workers on these projects would be paid competitive wages.

These reforms could be good for both taxpayers and employees who work on public projects.

Obviously, the reduction in labor costs would mean taxpayers could afford to fix more roads, bridges and other public assets.

At the same time, taxpayers could afford to pay for more projects, which would mean more good-paying jobs across our Commonwealth.

Before anyone falsely accuses me of being anti-worker, there are some things you should know.

Both of my grandfathers were union coal miners in central Pennsylvania who lived in company homes and shopped at company stores.  Their union helped them earn a good wage and benefits so they could make a living.

Both of my parents were public school teachers and belonged to the union.  My father later became a professor at Edinboro University and joined the faculty union.  My wife is a teacher and a union member, and my son is studying to become a teacher and will one day likely belong to a union.

When I was a general contractor, I hired union companies to perform work on projects.

My entire life, I have been pro-worker.  It’s part of who I am.  But I’m also pro-taxpayer.

Too often, people assume the two – union workers and taxpayers – have to engage in a constant fight.  The truth is, switching from a prevailing wage system to a competitive wage system would be good for workers and taxpayers.

It is no secret the Commonwealth’s roads and bridges are in pretty bad shape.  However, the presence of prevailing wage requirements and the absence of competitive wages make it expensive to fix these assets, which means fewer repairs are done and it costs more money.

If we switched from a prevailing wage system to a competitive wage system, we could have more good-paying jobs and better roads and bridges in our communities.  Competitive wages are a pro-worker, pro-taxpayer way to jumpstart our economy and repair our aging infrastructure.

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