Prevailing with the wage has helped middle class |

Prevailing with the wage has helped middle class

PK O’Neill

Much has been said during this legislative session about bills that would help or hurt the middle class

I’m glad to see legislation enacted this session is already producing a positive impact.

One such legislation is SB119, which exempts school construction projects from Nevada’s prevailing wage law. That law requires contractors who win publicly financed construction projects to pay workers according to a wage schedule established by the state’s labor commissioner.

Reform of the prevailing wage for schools has resulted in more projects being awarded, public money being saved, and construction workers being employed. These early results are promising and they indicate more positive results may come from consideration of reforming all prevailing wage laws in Nevada.

Putting people to work, and completing beneficial public projects while saving money is in the best public interest for everyone.

One of my favorite quotations by President Ronald Reagan is “the best possible social program is a job.”

Since SB119 was passed by both legislative houses and then signed into law by Governor Sandoval on March 9, it has already produced positive results and provided substantial savings for the Clark County and Elko County School Districts.

The two contracts awarded by CCSD were to Nevada construction companies and both under budget. One was for gym bleachers at two schools, saving the district 28 percent, while the other project of a replacement of softball, baseball and soccer fields saved 10 percent on a $3 million budget.

Even the Elko County School District, which normally has a lower labor cost than our more urban parts of the state, saved around 10 percent on a $23 million new elementary school in West Wendover which is on the Nevada/Utah border.

The savings of $2 million in West Wendover was so large for the Elko County School District it more than covered the cost of a new multi-million dollar HVAC system at Flag View Intermediate School.

Sadly, opponents of prevailing wage reform have highlighted this school in West Wendover was award to a Utah company as a way of saying Nevada workers were losing jobs to out-of-state workers. However, with the city equal distance from Elko as it is to Salt Lake City, projects in West Wendover usually go to a Utah company even under prevailing wage laws.

That was evident when the elementary school was originally sent to bid last year under prevailing wage that was not only won by another Utah company, but so severely over budget that it required the Elko County School District to reject every bid.

Yet, opponents of progress have constantly spread misinformation throughout the state.

They falsely claim middle class workers will be under attack when billions of dollars in public works projects will employ thousands of good paying jobs for at least a decade or more.

In fact, these policies are helping other sectors of the state’s economy grow. According to Nevada JobConnect, the manufacturing sector is expected to see 1,110 additional jobs in 2015, with a projected gain of 1,700 in 2016 and 2,300 more in 2017.

That will help our local economy, especially small businesses, as Nevada workers spend money in their communities leading to stronger economic growth in our state.

Reform is always a scary thought for some, but the prevailing wage process is complicated, and has not been substantially changed for several decades. However, with the recent changes now in place, it in some ways levels the playing field for the smaller independent contractors who bid for public projects.

I have additional legislation, which is part of that effort. AB172 would raise the threshold amount for all public works projects. The bill may survive on its own or possibly be wrapped into a comprehensive bill to reform the prevailing wage.

As policymakers, our goals are to have Nevadans returning to work, taxpayers saving money on public works projects, and Nevada firms doing what they are created to do. These preliminary results are all positive and are just some of the work being done by your Legislature this session.

It’s gratifying to be part of that process — to see good middle class jobs be created and filled.

P.K. O’Neill is the District 40 Assemblyman.