Smelser Backs Repeal Of Prevailing Wage Law

Delegation Considers Bills For Workers, Drivers, Schools

February 09, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — A Carroll senator has introduced a bill to repeal the state's prevailing wage law, which establishes minimum wages a contractor must pay on government projects.

Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, who first attempted to repeal the statute in 1973, said the law results in "artificially high" wages that increase the cost of government construction projects.

Repealing the law could result in capital budget savings, which could have a domino effect in boosting Maryland's economy, Smelser said.

More projects could be approved, and in turn more jobs created,he said.

"I'm hoping the need for school construction and problems with the economy and unemployment will be sufficient to get supportfor this bill," Smelser said.

Alternatively, the state could reduce its debt and diminish the need for new revenues.

Smelser and the bill's two co-sponsors anticipate a battle from labor unions, whichhave helped defeat similar attempts.

The repeal would last until October 1994. Then, the results would be evaluated.

The state mustestablish wages comparable to those paid to corresponding classes oflaborers and skilled workers in the area where the government work is to be performed. Fixed union-scale salaries often boost the wages.

A 1989 Department of Fiscal Services study says the law increased the cost of state buildings from 5 percent to 15 percent in regions with high wages.

The law applies only to contracts exceeding $500,000 and when the state pays at least half of the cost. It applies to school construction when the state contributes at least 75 percent of the cost.

Smelser says if the law was repealed, the state could save between $30 million and $45 million on a $350 million constructionprogram -- the established bond limit for next year.

Smelser saidthe state should award construction contracts based upon open bidding.

The prevailing wage is intended to protect local economies by assuring that contractors pay current local salaries for public projects.

Associated Builders & Contractors Inc., a trade group, supports repeal.

Contractors are paying "pretty good wages to live on," said Victor Cyran, Baltimore chapter executive director. "We'd love tosee the money saved go back into the economy," he said.

The following are prevailing per hour wages, not including benefits, for workers in Carroll County: bricklayer, $14; carpenter, $11.44; electrician, $10.34; cement mason, $9; unskilled laborer, $7.64; plumber, $12.50; roofer, $12.50; and bulldozer operator, $10.50.

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