Two years after a stalled initiative, local state legislators have renewed their efforts to nix the state’s current prevailing wage laws in order to help political subdivisions curb construction costs of major capital projects.
Introduced by state Reps. Craig Riedel, R-Defiance, and Susan Manchester, R-Waynesfield, the bill would make prevailing wage an option, or permissive, instead of a mandate for public projects. In other words, governmental subdivisions could still choose to use prevailing wage law, but those uninterested subdivisions could opt out when dealing with public projects.
Riedel sponsored a similar bill introduced during Ohio’s last general assembly, which eventually languished in committee. State Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, introduced that same bill — the basis of Riedel’s and Manchester’s latest efforts — in February 2017 during a press event alongside Allen County Commissioner Jay Begg and Sidney Mayor Mark Barhorst.
Allen County Commissioners expressed their support of such a bill during a 2018 meeting with Huffman.
Unlike past efforts, the latest reiteration of the bill, or H.B. 78, also adds additional language upping the threshold for prevailing wage applications to new building projects costing above $500,000. The current threshold is $250,000.
Ohio’s prevailing wage law has been active on the books since 1931, and despite repeated conservative efforts to weaken the type of public project the law applies to, there hasn’t been much headway made in the legislature.
Riedel said despite the failures in the past, he is looking to garner support from House leadership and the Ohio House Republican Caucus to push it through. Another potential option is working some of the bill’s existing language into the state’s operating budget bill.
So far, H.B. 78 has gained 16 co-sponsors. Riedel said he has also received vocal support from the majority of Republicans in the House.
“There is no question that the folks I represent want this policy. They want it badly, and they expect me to come down and fight for them,” Riedel said, who represents Ohio’s 82nd House District. The district is comprised of Defiance, Paulding and Van Wert counties as well as a northwestern segment of Auglaize County.
“H.B. 78 empowers local governments to make the best decisions for their communities while protecting taxpayer dollars and pursuing free markets,” Manchester said in a press release. “Local control is a hallmark of good government, and I am glad to support this legislation.”
Manchester could not be reached for comment prior to press-time.
As a freshman legislator, H.B. 78 is the first bill Manchester has introduced as a primary sponsor. After winning the November election for Ohio’s 84th House District, she replaced Keith Faber, now the state auditor, who supported similar efforts in the past. The 84th district comprises Mercer County and parts of Darke, Shelby and Auglaize counties.
The bill has yet to be sent to committee. Riedel, who is on the commerce and labor committee, is expecting the bill to head there to be reviewed.
“I do believe that it’s going to be very beneficial for smaller governments in rural Ohio,” Riedel said. “I’m a firm believer in open, competitive free markets. To me, what makes our country the greatest in the world is a market based on capitalism. To me, prevailing wage is a small form of socialism.”