The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 17, 2013

Road funding turmoil may be saving grace for state prevailing wage

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – Will Republican in-fighting over how to fund road repairs help save the state’s prevailing wage law?

Maybe, maybe not. But there are potential chinks in the front of the GOP’s armor as they go about the effort to repeal the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act of 1965.  Repeal of the law listed as one of the Republican House of Representatives self-proclaimed top priorities in their “Action Plan for 2013-14.”

“Michigan Democrats, outnumbered in both the state House and Senate, find themselves in an unusual position,” said an M-Live article last month. “They have leverage.”

Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers in the Republican-dominated House and Senate have been unable to agree on a funding program to repair Michigan’s roads. Snyder suggested a $1.2 billion plan in his State of the State message to raise the money through a wholesale tax hike of 33 cents a gallon, plus increases in vehicle registration fees. That plan went nowhere.

Higher taxes are two dirty words in the Republican caucus. Some GOP lawmakers want to put some sort of a gas tax or vehicle fee increase on a statewide ballot. Some are calling for raising sales taxes. Some think the money can be squeezed from the existing transportation budget. One Republican lawmaker proposed raising money through naming rights on public assets and selling advertising on bridges.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that without a Republican consensus on a road funding package, Democratic votes are needed. And state Dems are adamant that prevailing wage repeal be taken off the table. Gov. Rick Snyder called prevailing wage repeal “divisive” – which was the same term he used for right-to-work before he signed it into law.

But according to Lansing correspondent Tim Skubick, “Democrats want the governor to say he would veto a repeal of prevailing wages, which would be an automatic cut in pay for workers on public works projects. Prevailing wage is son of right to work and Democrats don’t like it. Some R’s (Republicans) do.” Skubick said that there’s speculation that the governor could give in to Dems and keep prevailing wage in return for a broad transportation package.

Meanwhile, Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw) told MIRS News Service that prevailing wage repeal is “off the table.” He added: “If I say it's not going to get through the Senate, if the Senate Majority Leader said it's not going to get through the Senate, it's not going to get through the Senate. It's not going to be part of the mix and I'd like us to get beyond that.”

Regarding Kahn’s comments, House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) spokeswoman Katie Carey told MIRS “That's nice, but last time I checked Senator Kahn doesn't control the Senate.” Echoed House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) Press Secretary Ari Adler, “The last I knew, Sen. Kahn doesn't set the House agenda.”

IBEW lobbyist Todd Tennis of Capitol Services said the Republican strategy on prevailing wage and road funding could take two paths. Prevailing wage could in fact be preserved by a road funding plan tradeoff that brings Democratic support along with votes from Republicans.

Or, Tennis said, the other path could result in some “major arm twisting” among Republicans to convince their few GOP brethren who currently support prevailing wage – to not support it.

 “That’s why our members have to contact their lawmakers,” Tennis said. “They have to hear that there are people in their district who support prevailing wage.”