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Prevailing Wage Repeal, Reform Stripped from WI Budget; Extraordinary Session Called to Address

WI Sen. Scott Fitzgerald

Wisconsin Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R)

Wisconsin Republicans have reached an agreement which will allow them to pass a budget for 2015-2017 after a week of contentious infighting over prevailing wage reforms and funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena.  

As part of the deal, Republicans agreed to eliminate these issues from the budget itself and instead take up an extraordinary session to tackle the outstanding questions.  Bills concerning a new contract for state troopers, financing for the Bucks arena, and the most contentious of the items — prevailing wage and abortion — will likely be addressed.

The GOP has been divided on how to handle prevailing wages. Democrats and workers’ rights groups, on the other hand are not. They want them to remain untouched.

Attempts at prevailing wage repeal earlier this year drew the ire of GOP leadership, but in the days leading up to the budget deadline a compromise on the prevailing wage was blocked by ultra-conservatives nonetheless. Repeal or die appears to be their approach.  In the end, the inability to reach any sort of middle ground lead to nothing being accomplished whatsover.

According to Madison.com, the compromise would have consisted of the following provisions:

The Assembly plan would significantly increase the minimum threshold for the cost of projects that are subject to prevailing wage — putting that threshold at $450,000, which Assembly Republicans said would be the second-highest of any state. The current thresholds in Wisconsin are between $48,000 and $100,000, depending on the project. The Assembly plan also would link the threshold to future increases through indexing.

The proposal would change the state’s formula for calculating prevailing wage, in an effort to address what some say are artificially high wages in rural areas. It also would carve out prevailing-wage exemptions for technical college projects, residential and agricultural projects, and projects funded primarily by charitable donations.

The threshold is the amount at which prevailing wages kick in. When that number is raised, fewer projects are subject to prevailing wage provisions and thus many more workers are paid far less.

Governor Scott Walker indicated early on that he would go along with either plan, although he favored repeal which is more in line with the conservative resumé he is buffing ahead of his presidential run.  Walker’s spokesperson Laurel Patrick told The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Governor Walker supports a full repeal of the prevailing wage law but would accept meaningful reform if that is what gets to his desk.”

Democrats, effectively cut out of the conversation given their minority status in the legislature, are waiting to see how the GOP feud will turn out. Just how harshly will wages be attacked? They note that Walker has been an “absentee Governor” and that his party, without appropriate leadership, is clearly struggling to make progress on this issue. Minority leader Peter Barca said in a statement: “As Republicans continue to try to out-position each other behind closed doors and in the media, Democrats stand together behind the goal of raising wages — not lowering them.”

The budget deal will still need to clear the Senate, where a group of conservatives are using their budget vote to push for prevailing wage repeal.  Even as he announced the budget deal, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald acknowledged that the votes aren’t there in the Senate to pass it.

“I don’t have the votes today as we stand here,” he admitted.

Speaking to a conservative talk show host, Fitzgerald seemed unsure about the budget’s July 13th fate. That happens to be the day Walker is expected to make his presidential candidacy official.

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