Lawmakers exempt schools and universities from prevailing wage requirement

The Legislature finally has gotten around to ending the requirement that contractors building public schools and university buildings have to pay workers the so-called prevailing wage.

A similar bill sponsored by state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer got nowhere in the 2013 Legislature, thanks to Democrats protecting their union constituents.

The prevailing wage is wet by the state labor commissioner from a survey of contractors. It is so time consuming that in reality only union shops bother to comply, meaning the prevailing wage is the highest union wage.

In 2000, an investigation by A.D. Hopkins in the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the prevailing wage law inflates the cost of labor on public works projects by 41 percent and cost the taxpayers of then-booming Clark County an extra $2.3 million for every new public high school being built.

In 2013, writer Michael Chamberlain illustrated the insanity of the prevailing wage law by reporting that while Census data showed median household income in Clark County declined by nearly 14 percent from 2007 to 2011, prevailing wage rates from between 5 percent and 12 percent.

“So while workers in Clark County were losing their jobs and seeing their incomes decline by double figures, and state and local finances were in dire straits with legislators forced to choose between some combination of budget cuts and tax increases to balance the books, prevailing wage rates, already far above market rates, continued to climb even higher,” Chamberlain wrote.

Nevada Policy Research Institute in its “Solutions 2015” handbook estimated the law requires the state, cities, counties, school districts and other government entities to pay 45 percent higher wages than necessary at a cost to taxpayers of $1 billion a year.

Perhaps after the schools calculate their savings lawmakers will conclude that we can build more roads and cheaper buildings without this Depression-era law and repeal the prevailing wage law entirely and close down the office of the labor commissioner.

NPRI chart showing prevailing wage rates.


Newspaper column: States can do a better job of saving endangered species … and jobs

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 was intended to protect the grand and noble eagles, bears, whooping cranes and condors, but it has turned into a tool for self-styled environmental groups to wipe productive human endeavors from private and public lands for the sake of protecting bugs, minnows, rodents and weeds.

During a recent online conference put on by Watchdog Wire, a network of citizen journalists, two authorities on the topic who come at it from the free market side suggested the best way to fight the ESA is to embrace its goal — saving species, as reported in this week’s newspaper column, available online at The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Greater sage grouse

Greg Walcher, president of the Natural Resources Group, noted that in the history of the ESA there have been more than 2,100 species listed, but fewer than half of 1 percent have been taken off — 10 because they were extinct.

He and Brian Seasholes, director of Reason Foundation’s Endangered Species Act project, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been pressed by groups such the Center for Biological Diversity and Wild Earth Guardians into listing hundreds of species as endangered. In 2011 the federal agency settled a lawsuit by agreeing to list 757 species by 2018. Among those is the greater sage grouse, whose habitat covers much of Nevada.

Walcher, a former Cabinet Secretary of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, said:

“The endangered species protection and recovery was an enormously popular issue in our state, literally at 80-20 polling issue. People overwhelmingly support protecting and recovering endangered species and yet in the just concluded campaign every place we went it seemed like people were mad about it and he got asked about it on the campaign trail over and over and over again by angry people. It just struck us as sort of strange that people are no contentious and bitter, antagonistic and even litigious over issue that we supposedly all agree on.

“So we decided to take a completely different approach in our state — nothing particularly new or different about what was going on in Colorado, but based on three really essential premises. One, that the Endangered Species Act is one of the most powerful laws enacted by Congress when some federal official you’ve never heard of who is five rungs below anyone accountable can declare a species to be endangered or threatened and that kicks in a whole body of federal law that just sort of seems to trump everything else — other federal laws and state laws and local operations and everything else.”

Walcher said the state discovered — with respect to several specific species in Colorado — that there not only was no recovery plan in sight but no one ever really talked about goals or delisting criteria.

Colorado pikeminnow

“In fact, they didn’t have the first clue what that criteria ought to be,” Walcher said. “We started actually with the endangered fish in the Colorado River, because it’s a series of water issues that affect the well being and economy of 30 million people in seven states and is a part of a 75-year-old battle over use the Colorado River in the most arid part of the county where you have to be able to divert water out of that river and use it or you can’t live there.”

Colorado engaged the federal agency in a years-long battle, before it unilaterally spent $5 million to build a hatchery dedicated to endangered fish.

“We began putting razorback suckers and bony-tailed chubs and humpback chubs and Colorado River pikeminnow back in the river by the hundreds of thousands,” Walcher said.

“There came an ah ha moment for me … The Fish and Wildlife Service literally tried to tell us it was illegal to do that,” he said. “They brought in batteries of federal lawyers to tell us the state wasn’t even allowed to possess an endangered species much less raise them in captivity and reintroduce them into the wild. It was all very political, so we responded by saying, well, OK then the governor’s going to have a press conference on the capitol steps and tell the world that you, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, are opposed to recovering endangered species.”

That stopped that.

Instead of confronting the agenda of environmentalists with arguments about how it affects human endeavors and the economy, Seasholes suggests states show the public how the ESA is harmful to its stated purpose. He noted how the law’s onerous penalties — “$100,000 and/or one year in jail if you harm one species, one egg, one chick, anything, or even if you harm its habitat” — provides a strong incentive for landowners to rid their land of endangered species and their habitat — often called shot, shovel and shut up.

Seasholes stated:

“Those of us in sort of the free market, limited government camp tend to think about environmental issues, especially stuff like the Endangered Species Act, as issues of secondary and tertiary importance. I think that you really need to pay attention to this issue because the Endangered Species Act is going through a phase of unbelievable growth right now. It is going to start touching parts of the country it has never touched, start touching sectors of the economy that have been relatively untouched, especially oil and gas. The Endangered Species Act is increasingly being used as a regulatory means to do other things, whether it is water quality, air quality, global warming. There is global warming slash climate change push with endangered species. So I think that this is something our side has really not paid much attention to its detriment. …

“But we have a winning had to play with this because the Endangered Species Act is so damaging and detrimental to its purpose of preserving endangered species.”

Another example cited by Walcher was how the Forest Service wrote up management plans for forests in Colorado to protect lynx, which had not been found in the state in decades and never amounted to a population of more than 18 even then. But the agency intended to close roads and ban snow mobiles and stop logging, grazing and drilling.


The state imported hundreds of lynx and there are now more than ever before.

Though environmentalists and Fish and Wildlife bitterly opposed the restocking in private meetings, Walcher said, “I can tell you that not one time did any environmental organization or any federal agency ever publicly criticize us for it. … Who’s going to stand up in front of a room full of people and say, ‘You know I don’t really care about those fish I just want to control the water and stop growth in the Southwest.’ Or, ‘I don’t care about the lynx, I just wanted to stop logging.’ Or, “I don’t care about the Gunnison sage grouse, I just want to stop grazing and ranching.’ Nobody can admit to some other agenda, because the public wouldn’t be with them then.”

Pundit’s ties to Miller family belatedly recounted

Laxalt and Miller before a debate. (AP photo)

In case you missed it, as I most certainly did, a account shortly before the election recounted ties between television pundit Jon Ralston and the family of attorney general candidate Democrat Ross Miller, who surprisingly lost to Adam Laxalt Tuesday.

The story by Ciara Matthews points out that Ralston, who frequently boasted of his role in reporting a leaked “evaluation document” from Laxalt’s former law firm calling him a train wreck and unsuited to practice law, was prominently mentioned by Ross Miller’s father, former Gov. Bob Miller, in the acknowledgements section of his book, “Son of a Gambling Man.”

Sounds like Ralston practically ghost wrote the book:

From Bob Miller's autobiography

From Bob Miller’s autobiography

Count the glowing adjectives.

I’m told the book breezes past some of the former governor’s relationships with less than savory Las Vegas characters of that era.

The Watchdog report is full of interesting links and twitter feeds.

When your own government is campaigning to raise costs

Raise your hand if you think the role of federal agencies is to carry out the policies enacted by Congress and the president.

Not so fast, Buddy.

Take a gander at the top item on a Department of Labor newsletter sent out this week:

From cities, counties and states to local businesses, momentum is building to raise the national minimum wage. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez, along with Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, Director of the National Economic Council Jeff Zients, and Bob Hartzell, CEO of the pet store chain Chuck & Don’s, discussed the issue and highlighted a new White House report during a news media conference call on Aug. 12. As the report outlines, since early 2013 — when President Obama first called for a minimum wage increase — 13 states and the District of Columbia have passed increases to their minimum wages, which will benefit about 7 million workers. During the call, Perez shared his personal, on-the-ground insight into the broad-based support for higher wages, including a visit to Hartzell’s Minnesota store. “Businesses that are paying at or above the minimum wage are doing it not just because it’s the right thing to do by their workers, but also because it’s the smart thing to do for their business,” said Perez. “They know that higher pay improves morale and productivity, while reducing training and turnover expenses. And that improves the bottom line.”

Hardly subtle. Obama has proposed raising the minimum wage to $10.10 and the DOL is in full campaign mode.

This is illustrated by the couple of dozen YouTube videos the agency has posted online pointedly calling for raising the minimum wage, such as this one:

They pay no heed no stinking Hatch Act, the one that prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government from engaging in partisan political activity.

Speaking of Minnesota, which raised its minimum wage to $8 per hour, with further increases until it hits $9.50 in 2017, Watchdog Wire reports the reaction to one restaurant owner who highlighted the increased cost on the checks for his customers.

The owner is adding a 35-cent “min wage fee” to his checks.

The owner told a local newspaper the wage hike will cost $10,000 this year. That’s $10,000 passed along to his customers, some of whom are surely on fixed incomes.

Some reactions online have nasty. The Watchdog report says:

Last week, a patron posted a photo of a receipt on Facebook and complained about the 35-cent “minimum wage fee” on the bill. The photo quickly went viral, shooting the Oasis Café straight into the center center of the national debate over the minimum wage.

Talking heads like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough talked about it. The Today Show did a segment about the cafe’s new fee, and thousands have weighed in with comments on social media. …

That lesson, in the form of an extra fraction of a dollar, has created a firestorm of controversy on the Internet, particularly among the very people who supported the higher wage, but apparently do not want to be forced to see the consequences of such policy.

Bluestem Prairie, a liberal political blog in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, was one of the first to pick up the story last week. It labeled the restaurant’s new fee “tacky.

On his national show, Scarborough said he understood how difficult running a small business like a restaurant can be, but then pivoted to criticize the Oasis Café’s new fee.

With the minimum wage as low, historically, as it is right now, you might not want to advertise your contempt for raising it, on the bill,” he said.

His co-host, Thomas Roberts, said he would rather see restaurants raise the price of food instead of putting the extra fee on the bill.

It seems like it’s a revenge tactic,” he said.

I thought these people were for transparency. Apparently not.