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St. Croix Crossing 08-10122016140421

John Sendor, a structural design engineer for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and Tara Weiss, a project manager for the department, view the underside of the St. Croix Crossing bridge project near Hudson, Wis. Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL

Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would fully repeal the state’s prevailing wage law, which sets minimum pay requirements for companies that are chosen for state building projects.

The measure follows a successful 2015 effort by the GOP-controlled Legislature that eliminated the prevailing wage for local public works projects beginning on Jan. 1, 2017, and prohibited local governments and school districts from enacting their own prevailing wage requirements. That was part of the 2015-17 state budget approved by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

The latest effort to fully repeal state and local prevailing wage laws matches the agenda of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a special interest bill mill that hawks pro-business economic and social policy proposals to state legislators around the country. ALEC has received funding from Charles and David Koch, and Koch Industries is a member of ALEC. ALEC was created in the 1970s and is made up of powerful special interests and state legislators who create and exchange model legislation that can be introduced in statehouses across the country.

The latest bill was introduced by GOP Sen. Leah Vukmir and Rep. Rob Hutton, both of Brookfield. Vukmir is ALEC’s treasurer. Hutton is an owner of Rock Transfer & Storage in Milwaukee. The pair authored the proposal after GOP leaders who control the Legislature removed a plan in February from Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2017-19 state budget that would have repealed the prevailing wage from state construction projects.

The 2015 effort to repeal the prevailing wage was backed by business, construction, and municipal utility interests, and two right-wing groups backed by the billionaire Koch brothers. The groups are Americans for Prosperity, a conservative electioneering group that spent an estimated $5.7 million since January 2010 to help elect GOP legislators and Walker, and Concerned Veterans for America. The construction industry was split on repealing the law.

Americans for Prosperity makes no direct contributions to candidates, but business, construction and municipal utility interests doled out about $8.9 million to Walker and about $3.2 million to current GOP legislators between January 2010 and December 2016. Vukmir got about $47,400 and Hutton accepted about $4,200 from business and construction interests during that time.

Prevailing wage critics say the requirement can artificially inflate wages for workers on public projects, and removing it could save taxpayer dollars. Supporters of a prevailing wage say abolishing it could cut wages for middle-class workers. They also say the requirement ensures taxpayer dollars are spent wisely by preventing under-bidding by shoddy or out-of-state contractors.

Matthew Rothschild is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. 

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