Sussex County Delaware

Booth Back H.B. 97
on School Construction
Letter to the Editor

State Representative,
37th District, R-Georgetown

Joseph W. Booth is a Delaware State Representative representing the 37th Representative District.

Delaware Representative Joseph W. Booth

Dear Editor,

With the legislative session winding down, I want to draw attention to a bill that could save taxpayers thousands of dollars.

House Bill 97 seeks to eliminate a current state requirement that Delaware contractors working on public school projects pay their workers according to a state wage scale. This so-called "prevailing wage" is set by the state Department of Labor annually and varies not only from occupation to occupation, but from county to county.

The Labor Department determines the wage by conducting annual surveys of businesses in all three counties and then setting a rate paid by the majority of firms surveyed.

By setting an artificial floor for wages, this practice needlessly inflates the cost of the projects - potentially costing taxpayers hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in increased costs.

The prime sponsor of the measure, State Rep. Deborah Hudson, said that based on the experience of other states that have rolled back similar prevailing wage mandates, Delaware school districts could save a significant amount of money. School projects constructed without the encumbrance of prevailing wage rates cost 10 to 15 percent less than those built under the requirement.

Cape Henlopen School District is currently finishing work on two new middle schools that are due to open this fall. The Beacon and Mariner middle schools cost approximately $12 million each. If Cape officials had been able to build these schools under free market conditions, taxpayers would have saved hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in labor costs.

Indian River School District is currently building two new two new high schools that are expected to begin operations in September 2004. Had prevailing wage rates not been forced upon the district, Rep. Hudson estimates taxpayers could have saved more than $330,000 on the projects.

Labor unions argue that prevailing wages guarantee quality work and no strikes. However, there is little reliable evidence indicating that projects built without prevailing wage rates are at any significant disadvantages to those built with them.

In addition to increasing costs, prevailing wages also remove the flexibility of contractors to pay their workers on the basis of experience, merit and reliability.

We are blessed to live in a society that has prospered by allowing competition to drive the delivery of products and services. It's a system that has served us well in nearly every aspect of our economy. Prevailing wage requirements hinder competitive bidding and interfere with the delivery of high-quality at affordable prices.

Along with 12 of my colleagues in both parties and both chambers of the General Assembly, I'm co-sponsoring HB 97. We believe that money earmarked for school construction is best used for serving the needs of our students and teachers, not paying artificially high wages.

State Rep. Joe Booth

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