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Pa. leaders rally in Harrisburg for prevailing wage reform

April 16, 2013|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Franklin County, Pa., municipal leaders joined their counterparts from communities with similar demographics Monday to push for prevailing wage reform in the state’s capital.

Washington Township Manager Mike Christopher, Chambersburg Borough Council President William McLaughlin and Southampton Township Supervisor Samuel Cressler participated in a news conference in the Capitol rotunda in Harrisburg, Pa. They told lawmakers that relief from the mandate could allow for more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

“Our message was delivered collectively by multiple municipal organizations, including the boroughs, school districts, townships and counties. (The prevailing wage law) serves no purpose today other than costing municipal governments money,” Christopher said.

Prevailing wage, which is based on union wages paid in the Pittsburgh or Philadelphia areas, must be paid on government projects above $25,000. The law was enacted in 1961.

A 2008 court ruling determined paving projects are subject to prevailing wage regulations.

Christopher said Washington Township did not do blacktop for a couple years after that ruling, and he thinks the municipality could stretch its dollars and do 15 percent to 20 percent more paving work without having to pay prevailing wage. He said small companies are afraid to bid on projects with prevailing wage because they feel their employees will balk at returning to their usual pay rate after earning two to three times more on one project.

“Our locals don’t bid,” he said.

Cressler spoke during the press conference.

“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,” he said, according to a news release.

Franklin County area lawmakers, including state Sen. Richard Alloway II and state Reps. Rob Kauffman, Todd Rock, Dan Moul and Dick Hess — all Republicans, support repealing the prevailing wage law, according to Christopher.

“I don’t know what the chances are, but I’m going to do the best I can,” Alloway said in a phone interview.

Prevailing wage requirements are responsible for driving up the cost of public projects an average of 10 percent, Alloway said.

“At a time when we are asking everyone to do more with less, we should make sure that we are getting the most out of every tax dollar spent,” he said.

Potential legislative reforms include raising the threshold for projects from $25,000 to $185,000, and exempting road and bridge maintenance work.

In a phone interview, Kauffman said he thinks reform has better chances this year because of a changing national environment related to labor issues. Still, he said the bills face challenges from Democrats and Republicans that represent urban and suburban communities, particularly those in the Philadelphia area.

“I think the best we can hope for are tweaks to the law,” Kauffman said.

The legislature cannot debate a transportation spending plan without looking at how prevailing wage affects dollars spent on those projects, Kauffman said. About six to eight current bills address prevailing wage reform, he said.

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