JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — During the final week of the 2018 legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly approved a bill limiting the circumstances under which the state’s prevailing wage statutes apply.
Prevailing wage laws guarantee a minimum hourly rate for workers on public construction projects. The specific rate varies by county and the type of work performed.
The measure, House Bill 1729, eliminates the prevailing wage for any project costing $75,000 or less, but not for occupations in localities with at least 1,000 reportable work hours.
The final language represents a compromise between opposing sides. Several assembly members wanted to go further, with some even advocating a full repeal of the state’s prevailing wage.
The bill’s supporters say prevailing wage doesn’t make sense for small-scale projects in poorer communities. When a district wants to build a new school, for example, making them pay above market-value for construction work is inefficient and costly to taxpayers, they argue. At worst, it could even price the community out of building a new school in the first place, especially during lean budget years.
“Now more than ever is the time to reform how we pay for public construction,” said state Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, “so that the municipalities and schools and cities will be able to have the resources they need to do needed construction projects.”
Those who stand by the existing prevailing wage law, however, believe it protects Missouri workers from out-of-state contractors. With only the relatively low floor of the state and federal minimum wages, which are far below most prevailing wages, large companies could easily out-bid smaller, local contractors.
What’s more, they argue, prevailing wage is never an exorbitant cost, as rates are calculated based on a specific area’s needs. In poorer communities, the prevailing wage won’t be nearly as high as in a wealthy suburb.
“Missouri contractors first. That’s how I’ve always been, and that’s how it should be,” said state Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, the minority floor leader. “They’re citizens of the state. They pay taxes. The money they generate through the work they do stays in the state. And that’s how I want it to continue.”
House Bill 1729 awaits consideration from Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who is expected to sign it into law. Should he instead veto the legislation, lawmakers will have an opportunity to override the decision during an extraordinary session in September. A two-thirds vote in both the Senate and House of Representatives is required to reverse a governor’s veto.