Editorials

Illinois needs to dictate construction wages so campaign cash keeps flowing

A large crew of workers helped build the Interstate 64, 55 and 70 interchange and approaches in East St. Louis for the new Mississippi River Bridge in 2013. The Illinois Policy Institute has released a study that says repealing the Prevailing Wage Act could help stimulate the construction sector while saving money on public projects.
A large crew of workers helped build the Interstate 64, 55 and 70 interchange and approaches in East St. Louis for the new Mississippi River Bridge in 2013. The Illinois Policy Institute has released a study that says repealing the Prevailing Wage Act could help stimulate the construction sector while saving money on public projects. dholtmann@bnd.com

The Illinois Policy Institute just did a study that concludes Illinois could have had an additional 14,000 construction jobs had it abandoned the state law that forces public bodies to pay a rate determined by the state’s labor department.

If O’Fallon plants a shrub at City Hall, the state dictates how much the landscaper is to be paid per hour.

This mandate to pay the prevailing wage is touted by trade groups as a way to get quality construction and avoid work stoppages.

The institute study says it drives up wages by 40 percent statewide and the cost of construction by 10 percent. Eight states that eliminated their prevailing wage laws saw jobs grow 8 percent over a decade.

The study also found that prevailing wage laws kept out minority contractors.

A study in 2013 by a University of Illinois labor relations professor said repealing the law would cost Illinois 3,300 jobs and $160 million in lost taxes.

But you’ve got to wonder when you look at the individual wages.

A carpenter in St. Clair County must be paid more than $7 an hour more than a carpenter in St. Louis. A roofer gets $12 a hour more and a cement mason nearly $5 an hour more.

It also seems like common sense that when government fixes labor prices, competition dies and costs rise.

Let’s not forget that this study has a snowball’s chance in Springfield of changing anything. The Democratic majority wants to keep cash in the hands of their union buddies so the unions keep campaign cash in the hands of statehouse Democrats.

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