The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 4, 2013

State Rep. Fred Keller returns to prevailing wage issue

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— MIFFLINBURG — Sworn in on New Year’s Day for his second term in office, state Rep. Fred Keller, R-85 of Kreamer, already is preparing to reintroduce one of the premiere — it not controversial — pieces of legislation he devised last year: prevailing wage changes.

And when Keller’s bill is reintroduced, likely by the end of January, the threshold for exemption from prevailing-wage bidding will be $190,000, adjusted to reflect inflation and keep construction costs current.

House Bill 1329 had a threshold of $185,000.

Keller sent a memo Dec. 27 to his House colleagues outlining the bill that would change the Prevailing Wage Act, enacted in 1961. Since 1963, the current $25,000 threshold is used to establish “prevailing” minimum wage rates that must be paid on public construction projects.

Keller’s bill includes an annual index to adjust the limit for inflation, so the limit would change every year if the bill passes, he said.

Keller made headway with then-HB 1329, which raised the threshold on municipal prevailing wage projects. The bill had more than 30 co-sponsors and was supported by state organizations representing township supervisors, boroughs, school boards and other organizations.

It survived two rounds of votes in the House but didn’t make it out on the third round, losing by just six votes.

Some of the bill’s critics called it an attack on the labor force by paying them less, but Keller said that is not his intention.

“It is not that I don’t want to pay people,” he said, adding it’s typically administrative costs and bureaucratic wrangling, not wages, that push up the prices on municipal projects.

But upping the level on the prevailing wage would let entities such as school districts and local governments manage monetary resources better and, in some cases, prevent taxes from increasing, the lawmaker said.

“This will let municipalities with small projects get more work done instead of having to trim corners to cut costs,” Keller said. “Maybe they could pave another mile of road.”

“Many people are pinching pennies,” he said. “We as a government need to do that, too.”

Holding the line on spending seems an edict of Keller’s time in office. The lawmaker isn’t keeping any of the raises granted to state representatives, instead writing checks to Snyder and Union counties in proportion to the number of his constituents there. Essentially, he is making about $3,700 a month as a representative, the same amount he began office with in 2011.

In Harrisburg, Keller is among representatives choosing to share receptionists — his also will work for state Rep. John McGinnis, R-79 of Blair County — and he will not replace longtime congressional aide Judy Shirk, who recently retired after more than 30 years serving 85th District representatives.

Keller said pension reform and the size of the General Assembly will be major issues on the House floor this year. He also said he hasn’t heard much from the governor’s office about education spending but noted the state’s revenue was higher than expected at $59.1 million.