The State Was Saved From The Prevailing Wage Legislation

It was good to see that the state Legislature did not approve of a prevailing wage expansion as part of the state budget.

The issue flew under the radar for many during budget deliberations, would require contractors to pay the local prevailing wage on any construction project that receives state money as well as some construction work performed under private contract, such as projects supported by state bonds or grants, public entities or third parties acting on behalf of a governmental entity or projects receiving certain loans, tax credits or other public subsidies.

In addition to the aditional wage required, use of the prevailing wage requires projects to use antiquated job descriptions that private companies are not required to use, and each of those separate jobs comes with a different wage schedule. Plus, the prevailing wage impacts benefits. A 2017 report by the Empire Center for Public Policy stated that such an expansion in the use of the prevailing wage could increase the cost for public construction projects by as much as 25 percent, something that would be particularly troubling for a place like Chautauqua County, where the state tends to play a major role in development projects through programs like the Regional Economic Development Council or the Downtown Revitalization Initiative. Expanding the prevailing wage might have meant more time raising money to build the National Comedy Center or delays on projects like building sewers around Chautauqua Lake.

Rather than being something to help workers, expanding use of the prevailing wage could very likely make some development projects too expensive to undertake. As it is, Western New York is reliant on state grants to redevelop itself. Removing that money to avoid a new costly state mandate would just further hinder local development efforts. It certainly doesn’t send the message to developers — both those inside New York state and those the state is trying to attract — that New York state is open for business.

The prevailing wage legislation was included in both the Assembly and Senate budgets before being dropped from the final state budget when Assembly and Senate leaders finalized the budget with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Hopefully, that’s a sign that Cuomo, Assembly leader Carl Heastie and Senate leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins came to their senses about just how much the prevailing wage legislation could hurt the state. Ideally, they’ll leave the prevailing expansion in the trash bin where it belongs for the rest of the legislative session.