Governor and State Government and Legislation and Construction and Government & Economic Development and Government and Real Estate & Retail

Error removes limits from Indiana project wage law

June 9, 2011

A mistake in a bill that legislators meant to loosen wage requirements on government construction projects in Indiana will put all such projects — regardless of cost — under the regulations.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said legislative leaders only recently found out about the mistake made by the Legislative Services Agency staff.

The error deletes the law's current threshold level of $150,000 from July 1 through the end of this year, The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne reported. The new law raises the threshold to $250,000 starting Jan. 1, then increases it to $350,000 starting in 2013.

"There was a drafting error. It was not caught, and (the legislative agency) has apologized to us," Long said. "It should have been caught."

The bill approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature in April and signed into law by GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels made changes to Indiana's Common Construction Wage Act, which establishes labor rates in construction projects contracted by state and local governments.

Supporters argued it was aimed at increasing the number of Indiana contractors that would bid on government projects and lower the cost of those projects, but it was among the labor-related bills that House Democrats protested during their five-week legislative boycott.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said that workers on construction projects that aren't covered by the wage law already aren't paid enough.

"Maybe this will be a great test to show we can build and have economic development and you don't have to lower people's wages," Bauer said. "It's a six-month trial showing we can build while giving good living wages."

Legislators aren't scheduled back in regular session until January, and Long said the error wasn't worth the expense of calling them back before then.

Long said he believed state and local officials should follow the current law and the intent of the Legislature. He said he hoped union members don't "skewer" government units into paying higher wages on these smaller projects.

But Pete Rimsans, executive director of the union-affiliated Indiana State Building and Construction Trades Council, said "It's the law, and you can't just put your blinders on."

Rimsans did say he doesn't think many projects will be affected — mainly just smaller maintenance work or emergency repairs.

Rhonda Cook, the legislative counsel for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, said the organization was trying to sort through ramifications of the error before advising its members on the issue.

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