State Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, said Friday he thinks the odds are "better than 50 percent" that the Wisconsin Legislature will repeal the state's prevailing wage law this session.
In a web series hosted by former GOP consultant Brian Fraley for his new communications consulting firm, Edge Messaging, Hutton spoke about the bill he's sponsoring that would roll back Wisconsin's 80-year-old prevailing wage requirements.
Under current law, workers on local and state construction projects must be paid what's called a prevailing wage set by the state.
Hutton and other critics of the prevailing wage say the requirement over-inflates the costs of publicly funded projects at the expense of taxpayers.
Opponents of the bill argue that repealing the prevailing wage would result in lower wages, ultimately harming the middle class and driving skilled workers away from Wisconsin.
Some Republicans, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, have argued that the law ought to be reformed rather than completely eliminated. But Hutton pushed back in his interview with Fraley.
"I think you have to take the argument — are you going to take really, really bad law and make it less really bad, or are you going to eliminate the law entirely?" Hutton asked.
Asked whether he's confident he has the support of Republican leadership in both houses, Hutton said those discussions are still occurring. Lawmakers need to determine where the bill fits with their budgetary priorities, he said.
"We just passed right-to-work — is it our time now to continue to tackle these major labor reforms? I think one camp says we’ve got the momentum moving, we’ve got the forces on our side, let’s go ahead and get it done," Hutton said. "There’s the other perspective that says let’s temper our approach a little bit, and so I think that becomes part of the political discernment and the priority discernment that we’re trying to work through."
Opponents of the repeal say the bill is another attack on Wisconsin workers, following closely after the fast-tracked passage of right-to-work legislation last month.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, has accused the Republican lawmakers supporting the bill of ignoring the opinion of more than 400 businesses in passing right-to-work and in pushing for the repeal of prevailing wage requirements.
"Repealing prevailing wage would be another huge hit against the middle class and small businesses in Wisconsin. Over the last decade, Wisconsin has been the worst state in the nation for the middle class," Barca said in a statement. "Wisconsin’s road and bridge construction workers are some of the most productive in the nation — with low costs per mile and excellent training. The bottom line is that Wisconsin has a system that works and Republicans want to dismantle it knowing that it will drive down wages."
At a news conference last week, Hutton said the proposal could be tucked into the state budget rather than presented as standalone legislation. He told Fraley it's still up in the air which format it will take.