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Prevailing wage law

May 19, 2000

It probably won't endear him to Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, but state Sen. Alex Mooney's effort to overturn the prevailing wage law for school construction passed in the 2000 General Assembly will be cheered by school planners across the state, and by construction crew "helpers" whose jobs are now at risk.

The previous law said that the prevailing wage must be paid on any school construction job for which the state picked up at least 75 percent of the cost. Glendening's bill changed that to 50 percent, and added new work rules which state that everyone on the affected jobs has to be a certified journeyman, or an apprentice in a recognized program.

Glendening contended that the bill wouldn't add anything to the cost of school construction; the contractors would just shave their profit margins, he said. But a 1999 study by the Department of Legislative Services said such a change could add from 5 to 15 percent of all affected contracts.

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In February, Richard Avallone, the state official in charge of administering the program, told The Herald-Mail that the program depends on a voluntary survey of contractors in each region. Avallone said some don't participate because once the surveys are filed, they become public records, which some contractors fear their competitors will access.

Avallone also said that the new rules require the use of registered apprentices, as opposed to so-called "helpers." Contractors argue that without "helpers" to do unskilled jobs on the job sites, their labor costs will have to go up.

We have argued in the recent past that getting along with the governor means compromising on some of his pet projects. But Maryland's constitution also gives the governor tremendous leverage to force lawmakers to vote his or her way. A referendum in this case would be a check on that authority.

If this change is a good idea, Marylanders in their wisdom will see that and back it. If not, then the status quo that's served the state well for many years will prevail.

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