The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 15, 2013

Prevailing wage built on antiquated numbers


Daily Item

---- — The world is, unfortunately, full of arcane or obsolete laws. Such as: Did you know it is illegal to sing in the bathtub in Pennsylvania?

Some of them, thankfully, have fallen by the wayside, but others need to be put out to pasture as well, or at the very least updated for the 21st century. One of these is the prevailing wage law, which is, as local State Representative Fred Keller points out, about as outdated as outdated gets.

Put into effect more than 50 years ago, the prevailing wage law can cost businesses, schools and local governments, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars a year because of numbers that are antiquated in today's markets.

The bill has a threshold of $25,000, which sounds like a lot of money to a lot of people, but when you are talking about a construction costs, really isn't. In 1961 dollars, when prevailing wage became the law, it was. Today you can't replace the roof on City Hall for $25,000, but as soon as you reach that magic number prevailing wage kicks in and costs can skyrocket.

It was originally a good idea and may still be. The big problem is that the numbers have never been changed.

"The regulation makes no sense now, considering the cost of labor and materials," Keller said this week.

Keller talked of a project in Mifflinburg where a crossing guard who would normally make $12 an hour for a project will now get $31 for the exact same job. No more extra work for the guard, no additional benefits in the completed project, just nearly three times the cost to already cash-strapped entities.

Keller and other lawmakers don't want to do away with prevailing wage because in the end it is a sound plan that provides a safety net for companies who bid out nearly all of their work. What they want to do is update the parameters, so the wage doesn't kick in at a ridiculous $25,000 rate, but at a more modern $190,000 rate.

Remember that nothing today comes cheap. From stamps to food to roofing materials, the cost of everything has grown exponentially over the years.

The only thing that hasn't is the threshold for the prevailing wage. Now is the time for Harrisburg to catch up with the rest of the world.