Senate Bill Could Affect Construction Wages and Schools - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Senate Bill Could Affect Construction Wages and Schools

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One of the more controversial bills, so far, this legislative session is being heard by an Assembly committee. Senate Bill 119 has already passed the Senate, but supporters of the bill have a much bigger battle ahead of them, and it's all about how much construction workers get paid to build and make repairs to schools. The bill's sponsors say it will lower construction costs for school districts, charter schools and university buildings, but labor unions say the savings will come out of workers' paychecks.

"This bill attacks a higher wage earner that's a highly skilled worker and reduces his wage and that seems like a downward spiral," Michael Britton, Carpenters Union Representative said.

In Nevada, workers are paid prevailing wages for state-sponsored projects. The amount is determined through a survey process by the labor commissioner, and vary depending on the city or county. Some lawmakers say the process is extremely over-inflated.

"Forcing taxpayers to pay more than they have to for substantially the same product is, in my mind, simply bad government," Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno said.

"I don't think that it's overinflated," Britton said. "I think that it's a living wage that a person can actually buy a house and buy a car and feed their family and have money to send their kids to college."

Kieckhefer is one of the sponsors of the bill. He says by letting the free market determine wages, it could lower school construction costs by as much as 30%. Critics say savings would be closer to 5%.

"Washoe County and Clark County and across our state, there's nothing more important than providing a safe and stable learning environment for our kids and this does that and it does more of it with the same amount of money," Kieckhefer said.

"Do we need more schools? Yes. Do we need more money for education? Absolutely," Danny Thompson, Executive Secretary-Treasurer for the Nevada State AFL-CIO said. "But that's not because of prevailing wages. That's because we have a broken tax system in the state."

If passed, school districts could issue additional bonds using the existing tax rate to pay construction costs. In Washoe County, that is 38 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

"In Washoe County, we clearly need at least one, really two elementary schools," Kieckhefer said. "We're going to need another high school and while this doesn't necessarily solve that entire problem, it gets us part of the way there and it's important that we pass it."

There are several other bills that address prevailing wage, this session. Kieckhefer says he plans on presenting another piece of legislation that looks at the issue more comprehensively.

To read more about bills in this session, click here.

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