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Nevada Senate’s School Construction Prevailing Wage Exemption is “as Partisan as You Can Make It”


Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford
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The Nevada senate has passed SB 119, a bill that exempts school districts and universities from paying the prevailing wage on construction projects.  The divisive bill passed along party lines, 11-9.  It will now be taken up by the assembly where it must pass a vote in the Assembly Government Affairs Committee and then a floor vote.  

Debate fell along partisan (ideological) lines with Republicans arguing that a prevailing wage exemption would help school districts save money while Democrats asserted that the numbers being used were flawed and that SB 119 would lead to jobs going out of state.

Union representatives explained that for many Nevada workers, union or non-union, passage of SB 119 would result in lower wages and safety standards. Painters in Washoe County, for example, are expected to see their wages halved, from $33 to $16 an hour.  

Todd Koch, President of the Building and Construction Trades Council for Northern Nevada, suggested that state revenue would be harmed as well. “They’re not going to be able to buy trucks, buy homes,” he said. “You’re going to lose all that tax revenue that somebody with a good paying job has.”

Senate Minority leader Aaron Ford added: “It will drive skilled laborers out of Nevada to find work elsewhere.  It will allow out-of-state contractors to under-bid Nevada contractors, and this will lead to our tax dollars flowing out of the state.”

The bill also allows school districts to roll over bonding authority for school projects.  Sen. Greg Brower (R-Reno) described the measure as “a very modest reform,” and told the Nevada Appeal, “We in the majority are not trying to gut the entire prevailing wage law.”

Funding for construction projects has been a problem for school districts across the state, but Democrats insist that the language of the bill blatantly attacks unions and workers.  “This is one of the worst policy-crushing pieces of legislation that will devastate wages for our working families, said Sen. Kelvin Atkinson (D-Las Vegas). “We have made the bill as partisan as you can make it.”

Sen. Ford, among the leading opponents of the bill, further argued that the bill could lead to shoddy construction across the state:

“Skilled laborers who were well paid were the ones who built The Strip,” Senate Minority Leader Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, said in reference to Las Vegas’ economic engine for gaming and tourism. “The gaming industry relies on those (prevailing-wage) workers because they want work done safely and done right for the first time.

“I ask the question, why should our schools deserve any less?” Ford said. “When we are spending taxpayers money to build schools, don’t we deserve to know that they were built with the same skill, experience and attention to detail as the hotels and casinos that have helped drive our state economy?”

Governor Brian Sandoval has not indicated what he would do with SB 119, should it reach his desk. 


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