Prevailing wage Hill Farms (copy)

Pictured is the site of the new Hill Farms state office building in Madison. Under state law, the prevailing wage requirement for state-funded construction projects no longer exists.

Josh Johnson is a single father of three, including a newborn. He works hard at his construction job to support the most important people in his life. He would do anything to protect his children and their future. Josh doesn’t always ask for help, but he expects fairness. As a mayor, it's my job to make sure he gets it.

Prevailing wage has long been a tool for municipalities like Superior to ensure citizens get high-quality work on taxpayer funded projects and that the people building public infrastructure get paid fair, living wages consistent with the area standard. Prevailing wage also protects our local economy because it ensures tax money goes to local contractors, most of whom already pay area standard wages. It keeps the bidding process predictable and fair. Too many irresponsible contractors are willing to cheat municipalities, taxpayers and their own workers with substandard pay and subpar work to win a dishonest advantage and quick profits.

These bad actors hire unskilled and under-trained subcontractors to do the work for less money and sometimes no benefits. That usually creates substandard work that all too often requires a decent contractor to make costly repairs later, after the low bidder has left town.

And they will leave town. Many come from elsewhere to bid the contract, exploiting a local economy that previously used prevailing wage to support local companies and local workers. We have seen this firsthand with a 42% increase in out-of-state-contractors winning public construction work in Wisconsin since prevailing wage’s repeal.

Legislative inaction has left cities like Superior looking for innovative ways to protect workers and taxpayers. That’s why Superior and Douglas County each implemented Responsible Bidder Ordinances to ensure a level playing field for local bidders. It was a good first step but it needs updates to fully root out bad actors. That’s why the Superior City Council will consider amendments in coming weeks to set an even higher standard for contractors.

This will protect taxpayers from shoddy work. It will protect workers like Josh. Because if Madison won’t have their back, we will.

Jim Paine is the mayor of Superior.

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