A Wisconsin Senate panel has dealt a blow to efforts to repeal the state’s minimum wages for private-sector workers on government construction projects.
By a 3-2 vote, the Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform on Thursday voted against supporting a bill that would eliminate the state’s prevailing wage.
The committee chairman, Sen. Stephen Nass, insisted after the vote that repeal of or significant changes to prevailing wage laws could still happen. GOP legislative leaders have expressed interest in overhauling those laws but have said repeal is unlikely.
“I’m optimistic that we will have some kind of action in the Senate,” Nass said.
Nass, R-Whitewater, originally proposed repealing the prevailing wage for state and local projects. Facing opposition from some in his own party, Nass offered an amendment this week to scale that back and apply it only to local government projects. The prevailing wage is a minimum wage set by government, based on wage surveys, for private workers on publicly funded government construction projects.
But a key swing vote on the panel, GOP Sen. Howard Mark-lein, wasn’t swayed. Marklein, R-Spring Green, joined the two Democrats on the panel to oppose the amendment Thursday.
Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, disputed claims that repealing the prevailing wage would reduce the cost of public projects. Instead, he said it would nudge Wisconsin’s construction industry toward a low-wage, low-skill model.
“It depletes an industry. It hurts the middle class,” Larson said.
Nass said repealing the prevailing wage could save taxpayers millions. He said lawmakers must make what he called “significant” changes to prevailing wage laws.
“I don’t want the public to be fooled by some minimal changes,” Nass said.