WisDOT photo.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca and state Dems are seizing on a new study showing a jump in public works contracts to out-of-state companies since changes to prevailing wage laws took effect this year.

But a key group that supports repealing prevailing wage laws called the study a flawed analysis.

Last session, the Legislature removed prevailing wage requirements from local projects — a provision that took effect this January. Republicans are currently considering a full repeal of the state’s prevailing wage laws, which set minimum salaries for public works projects, by also scrapping those requirements on state projects.

Barca, D-Kenosha, said Thursday the partial repeal has been a “disastrous experiment” and warned against removing those requirements for state projects.

He cited a new analysis from the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition showing out-of-state companies got $32 million in contracts for municipal projects between January and April, up from $20.9 million during the same time period in 2016, when prevailing wage requirements on local projects were still in place. That represents a 53 percent increase.

“Small businesses in Wisconsin are losing,” Barca said at a news conference. “Workers in Wisconsin are losing. Wages are going down in Wisconsin. Contracts that should be going to Wisconsin companies are now being given away to out-of-state companies from Florida, Kentucky and Missouri.”

Conservatives have pushed for a repeal of prevailing wage laws, as has the state chapter of the Associated Builders & Contractors, arguing those laws artificially increase the costs of construction projects.

John Mielke, president of ABC’s state chapter, criticized the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition study, saying its premise of more out-of-state companies getting awards due to prevailing wage changes is “not supported by their own data.” He noted the study’s spreadsheets showed significant overlaps in out-of-state companies that got awards in both 2017 and 2016.

“They were getting work under prevailing wage, and they’re getting work without prevailing wage,” he said.

He also pointed to a 2015 study commissioned by ABC and conducted by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance showing some flaws with how prevailing wages are set throughout the state, leading to higher costs on many projects. The group,which didn’t take a stance on whether those requirements should be repealed, won a national award for its study.

Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, also pushed back against Dems’ criticisms and said repealing prevailing wage laws entirely would ensure the state is “more efficient and accountable with taxpayer dollars on construction projects.”

“Repealing these cost mandates allow us to better protect taxpayers and make sure they’re getting a better bang for their buck,” he said.

The Wisconsin Contractor Coalition did not respond to requests for comment.

– See the study and click through the links for the 2016 and 2017 spreadsheets:

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