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Mo. Senate Committee Takes Up "prevailing Wage"

By JORDAN SHAPIRO

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) â¿¿ The way Missouri calculates the minimum wage for public works projects needs to change â¿¿ but that's where the agreement ends for critics and supporters of Republican proposals aimed at reworking the calculating process.

Lawmakers were considering two proposals Tuesday that would change the state's "prevailing wage," which is the pay rate that cities, counties and other governmental entities must pay for construction projects. The rate is usually higher than the state minimum wage, though it varies by occupation and location.

Currently, the pay rate is calculated by the state's labor department using voluntary wage surveys sent in by labor unions and private contractors. But Republican senators from rural parts of Missouri said that results in a wage far higher than typical wages in their areas, which means projects can be too expensive for municipalities and school districts â¿¿ and needs go unmet.

"If (local governments) could get things done cheaper, they would do them," Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, said during a packed Senate committee hearing on the proposals.

For example, the prevailing wage for a pipefitter â¿¿ $34.25 an hour â¿¿ is the same in suburban St. Louis County as in rural Dunklin County in southeast Missouri. There was consensus that part of the problem may be because wage reporting is voluntary, so the wage could be calculated using incomplete data.

One Republican proposal would address that problem. Sen. Mike Parson, of Bolivar, outlined legislation that would base the prevailing wage in 89 rural Missouri counties on labor calculations from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, instead of relying on voluntary state reporting. The other GOP plan, sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown, of Rolla, would eliminate the prevailing wage altogether.

But Emily Martin, president of St. Louis-based Aschinger Electric, is opposed to both proposals.

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