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.