- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Cheered on by a roomful of union construction workers, a Kentucky House committee on Thursday defeated a Republican-backed bill to exempt public school projects from the state’s prevailing wage.

The arguments and outcome echoed past years when Senate Republicans made the prevailing-wage exemption a top priority, only to watch it stall in the Democratic-led House.

Republican Sen. Wil Schroder, the bill’s lead sponsor this year, said the issue will certainly resurface next year when the General Assembly’s political dynamics could be changed.

“If the House does flip, I do think we’re going to have a great shot,” Schroder said after Democrats on the House Labor and Industry easily defeated his bill on a near-party-line vote.

Due to a flurry of defections and resignations leading up to the start of the 2016 legislative session, Democrats saw their number dwindle to just 50 of the Kentucky House’s 100 seats. Republicans have 46 members, with special elections planned March 8 to fill the other four seats.

Both parties have lined up candidates for the special elections. The fight for control of the House will extend into the fall campaign, in what’s shaping up as a grueling, district-by-district fight.

At Thursday’s hearing, union construction workers cheered each time a lawmaker voted against the prevailing-wage exemption following a hearing lasting more than an hour.

“I can’t vote to take money out of your pockets,” Rep. Linda Belcher, D-Shepherdsville, told the crowd.

All construction projects on Kentucky public schools over $250,000, including K-12 and colleges and universities, must pay workers a predetermined wage based on a survey of similar projects by the Kentucky Labor Cabinet. That includes everything from a new elementary school to a multi-million dollar stadium for a college sports team.

Republicans say the law inflates costs, making taxpayer-funded projects more expensive than those in the private sector. But Democrats say the law ensures the jobs attract skilled workers for buildings used by children and other students. GOP Rep. Jim Stewart III of Flat Lick sided with Democrats in defeating the bill Thursday.

Rep. Dennis Horlander, D-Louisville, said he hears complaints about the salaries for superintendents and other top school administrators, not about how much construction workers are paid.

Another Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Greer of Brandenburg, said the much higher fees paid to architects, engineers and attorneys connected to school construction projects should come under scrutiny.

“It always seems that we are trying to cut the expense through the working men and women,” Greer said.

Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, said union workers don’t hold a monopoly on quality craftsmanship.

“There are many hard-working men and women who aren’t union members, and many non-union contractors are as concerned with quality as union contractors,” he said.

Schroder said the quality of construction work would not be jeopardized if his bill became law. Standards would still be in place, and building inspectors would ensure they are met, he said.

“This notion that if we undo this prevailing wage on schools, that the free market is going to take over and schools are just going to be crumbling, that’s absolutely false,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Will Coursey of Symsonia, who underwent back surgery this week, participated in the hearing from a hospital, through a video hookup. He joined his Democratic colleagues in opposing the bill.

___

The legislation is Senate Bill 9.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide