Debate on common wage repeal lingers during contractor event

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A Republican-backed proposal to repeal the state law that sets wages for public construction projects requires further study instead of a quick vote, opponents of the measure said Monday.

Indiana contractors and business leaders gathered at the Statehouse to praise the economic impact made by union contractor companies and recognize the 10,000th graduate to get an Ivy Tech associate's degree in partnership with union construction apprenticeship programs.

The event, hosted by the Indiana Building Contractors Alliance, fell on the first full session day after bills move from the House to the Senate. Lobbyists used the pivotal time to lobby against a repeal of the Common Construction Wage Law and argue to lawmakers that further research is necessary.

The House-approved proposal would eliminate the boards that set construction wages for each state or local project costing more than $350,000. The five-member boards set what is known as the common construction wage that any contractor on the building project must pay workers.

Supporters of the repeal say it would save tens of millions of tax dollars each year through an estimated 10-percent to 20-percent price cut on public construction projects by allowing more contractors to pay wages below union scale.

Opponents argue the change would hurt many Indiana-based companies by opening the door for low-paying, out-of-state contractors to underbid on projects.

Pete Rimsans, executive director of the Indiana State Building and Construction Trades Council, which is opposing the bill, said repealing the law would transfer costs of apprenticeships, health care and pensions on to the taxpayers.

"So, in the long haul, it would be a taxpayer subsidy, as opposed to a taxpayer savings," he said.

House members voted 55-41 last week to advance the bill, which was assigned to an unexpected committee for discussion.

Labor Committee Chairman Phil Boots, R-Crawfordsville, who would normally lead discussion on this type of measure, has said he wasn't in favor of taking up the proposal this session and believed a special committee should review the construction wages law.

But Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long decided to assign the bill to the Tax and Fiscal Policy committee, arguing that the law is unfair to taxpayers because it artificially inflates the cost of construction projects.

"If we can do this in a more effective way and a less expensive way, we ought to look at that every chance we get," he said.

Rimsans said lawmakers have not vetted the issue enough and it's concerning that Long's decision skirts the normal committee structure.

"I think it's a shame when you're bypassing the subject-matter experts and putting it into another committee which may not have the expertise," he said.

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