Asbill aims for prevailing wage exemption
Superintendent hopes to save district's tax dollars
Richard Asbill, superintendent of the Cassville R-4 School District, is hoping to get legislative support in creating a prevailing wage law exemption for school districts.
Asbill said an exemption for school districts would allow them to make better use of taxpayer money, especially with the number of renovation and construction projects on the horizon at Cassville.
"In Missouri, the prevailing wage law is important to construction and building an economic base, and I am not opposed to it," he said. "But, when you look at something like a school district and the projects it wants to accomplish, it reduces our fiscal availability to achieve prevailing wage."
Missouri's prevailing wage law established a minimum wage for workers on public works construction projects in the state, including bridges, roads and government buildings. The wage itself differs by county and by the type of work performed, and applies to all public works projects constructed by, or on behalf of, state and local public entities.
One of the projects Cassville schools is considering is roof repairs to its buildings. According to prevailing wage rates in Barry County, a roofer must be paid a minimum wage of $22 per hour, compared to the basic hourly rate of $9.13 per hour. The district is also looking to improve its electrical capacity, and the prevailing wage for an inside wireman is $25.05, and the prevailing wage for an outside lineman is $38.60. The basic hourly rates for inside wiremen and outside linemen are $11.485 per hour (plus 8 percent) and $5 per hour (plus 34.5 percent), respectively.
"There are some cases where we look at doing a project for $100,000, but with prevailing wage laws, it costs $120,000 to $130,000," Asbill said. "So, if the school can recapture that money for the betterment of the district and education, you have to ask yourself, why not make them exempt?"
State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, said he supports exemptions for not only local school districts, but also volunteer fire departments and municipalities.
"Exemptions are something I've pushed for a long time," he said. "Not just for school districts, but for county fire departments and municipalities, and we passed a bill last year that helps some of the smaller counties, but it doesn't go into effect until the summer."
The bill, HB 34, created a new system for calculating prevailing wage, making it more manageable for rural areas, as it changed the fact that prevailing wage was the same state-wide. The bill went into effect in August of 2013, and it takes one fiscal year to collect fiscal wage data, meaning the new prevailing wages will go into effect in July.
"We could do something for prevailing wage where districts could have a local wage rate, rather than a Kansas City or St. Louis wage rate," Sater said. "On a $1 million project, we could save a couple hundred-thousand dollars, and that would help the tax payers."
State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said he is an opponent of prevailing wage law all together, as he filed a bill last year that would have done away with the law.
"I don't agree with prevailing wage law because I don't think the government should be setting wages that should be decided by the free market," he said. "Being new in the legislature, I didn't know how politically unrealistic it was. So, there were some other bills designed to exempt school districts in third-class and fourth-class counties, but it's a controversial issue because it's an urban versus rural issue, and with certain areas controlling over half of the seats, it has become difficult."
Fitzpatrick said many groups who carry influence concerning labor issues are wary of an exemptions, as they believe it is a slippery slope to doing away with prevailing wage.
"Prevailing wage is a benefit to unions because if we don't prop up the wage rate, they have a more difficult time getting contracts," he said. "I can see where they say it puts them at a competitive disadvantage."
Fitzpatrick said he has not refiled a prevailing wage bill because the makeup of the legislature has a not changed, so he does not think it will garner enough support to pass. However, he said he hopes to work on the issue in the future because he thinks it is exemption would be a huge benefit to schools. Legislators have even looked at broadening the definition of "maintenance," as some maintenance is exempted from the law.
"A lot of school districts don't have a lot of money, and because of prevailing wage, they have trouble maintaining what they have," he said. "We tried to broaden the definition of maintenance last year, but it became controversial, and we haven't had anything on the house floor this year to that effect."
Asbill said he is not advocating a blanket exemption, but something that would allow the district to use as much local taxpayer dollars as possible for as many projects as possible.
"The Missouri School Board Association has been a good advocate for districts on prevailing wage," Asbill said. "If we could get our local representative and senator to take a position on the issue, that would be very beneficial. I know it may not be supported across the state, but we have to keep up the conversation about how we're spending money."