Gov. Scott Walker would sign a bill repealing the state’s prevailing wage if it passes the Legislature, his spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Laurel Patrick made the comments as an Assembly committee heard testimony on a repeal bill, which the committee later approved 5-4.
Walker has said prevailing wage wasn’t a priority, and he has faced criticism from fellow Republicans for not more forcefully backing the legislation.
Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, chairman of the Assembly labor committee, said he decided to schedule the Wednesday public hearing and vote a little more than 24 hours in advance so the measure could be considered by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee as it drafts the last pieces of the state budget this week. Jacque said he would also support the measure as a standalone bill.
Assembly Democrats said Jacque announced the hearing in an attempt to rapidly cram the measure into the budget. Only Republicans voted in favor advancing the bill, with Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, joining Democrats in voting against the measure, saying few of his constituents supported the repeal and he thought reforming the program would be preferable to repealing it.
“The people in my district weren’t hitting me on the back about this. This isn’t a top issue — it’s not even in the top 100,” Spiros said.
Vos said the measure was unlikely to make it into the budget. He called Jacque’s decision to call a hearing a “stunt” and said he wouldn’t schedule a full Assembly hearing on the bill.
“I don’t think Andre worried about anybody else; I think he thought about what he wanted,” Vos said.
Vos said he has discussed reforming the state’s prevailing wage law with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. Legislators are still negotiating whether they would include reform in the state budget, Vos said. Both have said they don’t have the votes to repeal the prevailing wage.
The comments from Walker’s spokeswoman Wednesday also came after conservative talk show host Jerry Bader, writing on the Right Wisconsin website, criticized the governor — widely considered a 2016 presidential contender — for not taking a stand on repealing the prevailing wage.
“Pains me as it does to say this, in this term he appears to be, well, leading from behind,” Bader wrote Wednesday. “There is a complete meltdown among the players in the huddle and Walker isn’t even on the sideline. He’s mingling with the talent scouts in the crowd, telling them about how great the last victory was and why he deserves a promotion to a bigger league.”
“Taking a definitive stance on this issue, one way or the other, including whether he would sign or veto a bill, would all but end the current insurrection” of conservative lawmakers, Bader wrote.
At the Capitol, contractors and school board members from across the state told the committee the repeal bill would ease the financial burden on local governments and municipalities, while workers from local construction companies said the measure would allow less skilled workers to take jobs while workers in the state suffered the financial toll.
The proposal would do away with a law that requires construction workers on certain government projects be paid wages equivalent to what they would earn working on other projects in the area.
Glen Allgaier, a member of the Elmbrook School Board, said school districts such as his could save thousands of dollars if they didn’t have to use the prevailing wage when deciding which contractor’s bid to accept for construction projects.
“There is potential relief here that can be used in the classroom,” Allgaier said.
Anthony Anastasi, an iron worker from Beloit, testified that he and other workers enroll in training programs at their own expense to stay competitive. Anastasi said he couldn’t continue training without asking for a fair compensation.
“I don’t think it’s mad science, everybody wants to do better for himself and for his family,” Anastasi said. “If I performed the same work for less money, I’d be foolish.”
John Mielke, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, said prevailing wage doesn’t reflect local wages across Wisconsin’s counties. When asked if he thought reforming the program could improve it, Mielke said it wouldn’t be worth reforming.
“You can take a bad law and make it less bad ... but at the end of the day, though, you still have a bad law,” Mielke said.