Column: Boost schools, end prevailing wage
Here’s a multiple-choice question:
Michigan’s mandated prevailing wage law (A) Benefits only construction unions and no one else, (B) Doesn’t allow for best bids on construction projects, (C) Has more than 300,000 possible job classification scenarios that are so onerous most local small businesses can’t compete and are shut out of work, or (D) Forces schools to pay millions more for work that can be done for less and without compromising quality.
The answer: All of the above.
It’s no secret. As chairs of the state House and Senate education committees, we know Michigan’s lost decade of economic recession and population loss has given school districts some tough financial circumstances. That’s why it is so important to give our schools flexibility with their existing resources and better control over their spending costs.
Fortunately, there is an area where significant funds can be freed up to help: the money school districts are forced — by state law — to pay to build and renovate public school buildings.
Because of a decades-old law used by only four other states besides Michigan, local school districts are required to pay inflated construction prices. This means it costs more to build a public school than to build the identical building in the private sector. A lot more.
This misguided government mandate says schools cannot choose the best, most qualified bid on a project, but instead are stuck with bids that can add millions to the bottom line. One recent study reported that forcing school districts to pay a union-backed prevailing wage can add as much as $170 million annually to the cost of school and university construction in Michigan.
In fact, prevailing wage repeal for schools in Ohio saved that state nearly $500 million in just five years, according to its nonpartisan Legislative Service Commission. We should be doing the same thing here in Michigan.
If we can build high quality, safe schools more affordably, why wouldn’t we?
If we can free up millions of dollars for actual classroom costs and better educational programs in our school districts, why wouldn’t we?
If we can charge taxpayers less for equal or better services, why wouldn’t we?
We can, and we should. The answer is to repeal the outdated, mandated prevailing wage law that favors construction union bosses at the expense of our students, schools and taxpayers. Once citizen petitions are presented to the Michigan Legislature, it’s going to be time to vote yes on finally repealing Michigan’s irresponsible Prevailing Wage Act.
Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, is chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, is chair of the House Education Committee.