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Local Government Leaders Call for Prevailing Wage Reform

Friday April 19th, 2013

On April 15, Pennsylvania's local government leaders called on the General Assembly to enact common sense and meaningful reforms to the Prevailing Wage Law, which was enacted in 1961 and has been unchanged since that time. The event, staged at the Capitol Rotunda, was attended by elected officials from across the state who say relief from the onerous mandate is needed to allow more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

The event was hosted by the Local Government Conference, which includes PSATS, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Municipal League, Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Commissioners, and Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Christian Leinbach, a Berks County commissioner and president of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, noted that the Local Government Conference, which collectively represents more than 2,500 local government entities, is requesting the modernization of the outdated mandate.

"Under current law, local governments must pay prevailing wages on public projects of $25,000. This threshold has remained unchanged since the 1960s. Today, that $25,000 would be worth more than $189,000," Leinbach said.

Snyder County Commissioner Joe Kantz addressed another reform. Until a 2008 Supreme Court ruling, maintenance projects were not subject to prevailing wages, but as a result of the ruling, resurfacing projects face increased costs.

"The Youngwood decision particularly affects maintenance of the more than 4,000 county-owned bridges. By falling under the prevailing wage requirement, fewer bridges can be maintained within the same budget allocation. For example, in Cumberland County, a 2010 maintenance contract totaled $121,430 for work on 17 bridges. Estimating a 15 percent cost increase for prevailing wages, this means the county might have saved around $15,800 on its 2010 contract if they had not been considered construction," Kantz said.

“Commonsense measures to update prevailing wage are not about organized labor; nor are they an attempt to weaken the rights of workers. This is not about Democrats versus Republicans. It is about taxpayer-funded projects and the ability for local governments to keep up with necessary infrastructure upgrades,” said Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, who also represents the PML.

Samuel Cressler, a supervisor for Southampton Township in Franklin County and a PSATS member, said: "We stand responsible to our constituents for every dollar spent and every tax levied. Whether it is a new roof on the township building or a road resurfacing project, prevailing wage in its current form artificially inflates the project costs. At the end of the day, it just costs taxpayers more money. As local officials, we strive to provide our citizens and taxpayers with the greatest return and the highest-quality end product possible, and the prevailing wage greatly hinders these efforts."

"The $25,000 prevailing wage threshold applies to almost every environmental infrastructure project authorities undertake,” said Tom Keiper, President of PMAA and Executive Director of the Mountaintop Area Joint Sanitary Authority. “It is rare to find a water or sewer project involving plant construction or installing or repairing lines below the current $25,000 threshold.”

PSAB President and Danville Borough Council Member Betty Ann Moyer said the issue of road resurfacing is a critical component.

"Since the 2008 Supreme Court ruling, municipalities have been required to bid resurfacing projects with prevailing wages thus increasing maintenance costs,” Moyer said. “With taxpayer dollars not stretching as far, the effects are being felt by drivers as fewer road miles are being resurfaced."

“As a growing, full-service township, Upper Allen has bid a number of large projects in the last three years,” said Upper Allen Township Commissioner President Kenneth Martin, speaking on behalf of PSATC. “All told, these projects will cost our residents $27 million. These are necessary projects including traffic signals, upgrades to our sewer system, local road maintenance, and a new municipal building. We estimate that paying prevailing wages adds more than $6 million to the total bill. That’s taxpayer money we could be investing in future needs.” 

Representing PSBA, Lewisburg Area School Board President Kathy Swope said that in many instances, renovations are necessary within her school district to ensure safety.

 "The gym project cost is estimated at $350,000, with about 60 percent of those costs attributable to labor and 40 percent for materials. Based upon contractor input, we know that about $31,000 to $36,000 of the cost is solely because of the prevailing wage mandate. Our district ─ like many others ─ would prefer to use these dollars in ways that directly benefit our students," Swope said.

Following is some of the recent prevailing wage reform media coverage from around the state.

Pa. leaders rally in Harrisburg for prevailing wage reform
The Herald-Mail

Legislators eye changes to prevailing wage law
The Tribune-Democrat

Lancaster County Commissioners Call For Reform of Prevailing Wage Act

Prevailing wage push on again
Milton Daily Standard