UPDATE: West Virginia repeal of state prevailing wage takes effect

Published: Jan. 27, 2016 at 7:26 AM EST
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UPDATE 5/5/16

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia has eliminated its prevailing wage for new public construction projects.

The repeal passed this winter by the Republican-led Legislature took effect Thursday. Lawmakers overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, which required a simple majority of the Legislature.

Republicans believe the wage is inflated and said repealing it will save taxpayer money. Democrats said the repeal won't produce savings, but will reduce pay and benefit out-of-state contractors.

Unions starkly opposed the repeal, though the wage applies to union and non-union contracts.

The repeal applies to new public construction contracts from Thursday onward. Existing contracts aren't affected.

A 2015 law eliminated the prevailing wage for projects costing $500,000 or less and let Tomblin's administration change how the wage was calculated. GOP leaders weren't happy with the recalculation.

UPDATE 1/27/16 @ 3:15 p.m.

CHARELSTON, W.Va. (WV MetroNews) The House of Delegates Wednesday passed legislation repealing the state’s prevailing wage law that sets hourly pay rates for workers on state-funded projects. The bill (HB 4005) now goes to the Senate.

The 55-44 vote followed an emotional debate on the House floor between supporters and opponents of the legislation as labor union members and business backers looked on from the gallery.

Delegate Eric Householder (R-Berkeley, 64) argued that repealing prevailing wage will reduce the cost of public projects, such as schools.

“This bill will save the taxpayers money by allowing competition to exist with a market wage, not a mandated wage,” Householder said.

He added that “no longer will our West Virginia taxpayers have to pay artificial wage rates set by un-elected bureaucrats who cater to big labor.”

That brought a response from Del. Mike Caputo (D-Marion, 50), who is a United Mine Workers Union officer.

“I heard someone…say they don’t think it’s going to affect wages. Well, what else is it going to affect?”

Caputo added, “I never thought I would see the day that we would be debating an issue that is going to take money out of the pockets of working West Virginians.”

Lawmakers compromised on a restructuring of prevailing wage last year, but Republicans believe the new calculation from Workforce West Virginia still represents artificially high rates, so this session they are pushing complete repeal.

Those backing repeal say market-based wages will save taxpayer dollars, leaving more money for additional state projects. Opponents say hard-working West Virginians will be the losers because of lower pay.

Earlier in the debate, the House rejected an attempt to have an economic impact study of the repeal of prevailing wage.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has indicated he opposes a repeal, preferring to give last year’s restructuring a chance to work.

ORIGINAL STORY 1/27/16 @ 7:30 a.m.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The Republican-led West Virginia House of Delegates is set to vote on repealing the state's prevailing wage for public construction projects.

House lawmakers are likely to cast that vote Wednesday.

On Thursday, House Democrats offered an amendment that would have only repealed the wage for five years and studied its impact before a full repeal. Republican House Speaker Tim Armstead ruled that the amendment was improper for a repeal bill.

Republican leaders aren't happy with the outcome of a compromise last year that let Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's administration retool the wage. So they are looking to strip the wage out of state law entirely this year.

If the bill passes the House on Wednesday, it will head to the Republican-led Senate for further consideration.