Monday, January 14, 2002

Change in prevailing wage law predicted

Stine says it costs state too much for construction

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — Senate Republicans are likely to propose changes to the state law mandating that a set wage be paid on government construction projects.

        Sen. Katie Stine, R-Fort Thomas, chairwoman of the Senate Economic Development, Tourism and Labor Committee, said Kentucky's prevailing wage law increases the costs taxpayers pay for government buildings and schools.

        Under Kentucky law, workers on public construction projects costing $250,000 or more must be paid the prevailing wage of the area. This is not necessarily a union scale, but it is usually close.

        Ms. Stine cited a report done last year by the staff of the General Assembly's Program Review and Investigations Committee — of which she is a member — that found prevailing wages increase costs of public buildings by 24 percent.

        “During these tight fiscal times, it doesn't make any sense to me why the taxpayers should pay arbitrarily higher prices than those in the private sector,” Ms. Stine said.

        A bill calling for changes to the law is probably going to be filed, Ms. Stine said, but she did not know the specifics of what the legislation calls for. Any bills on the prevailing wage will likely be heard by her committee, Ms. Stine added.

        A Northern Kentucky labor leader, however, said union officials will fight any attempts to change the prevailing wage law.

        “Unfortunately this is just a power play” by some Senate Republicans, said Jim Cole, political director of the Northern Kentucky Labor Council.

        “Prevailing wage has been shown to be cost-effective and a way to get a good end-product built by top professionals,” Mr. Cole said.

        If and when a bill is filed, Mr. Cole said, organized labor will show lawmakers studies and analyses of the effectiveness of the prevailing wage law.

        The Kentucky Labor Cabinet sets the prevailing wage in 81 counties, using wage and benefit data from contractors and union locals. It adopts federal prevailing wages for the state's other 39 counties.

        In both cases, the wage paid to a majority of workers in a job classification, such as electrician, becomes the prevailing wage for tha classification. If there is no majority, the agencies use a weighted average.

       The Associated Press contributed.


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