February 9, 2016

Public works wage rate change passes House

Photo Credit: Reinis Traidas cc

A bill that would change the rate of pay for some state funded public works projects passed the House on a 35-32 vote on Tuesday night after a three hour debate.

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

The bill’s sponsor Rep. Nora Espinoza, R-Roswell, said her bill would save the state money by allowing the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions to determine wages for publicly funded school and highway construction projects .

House Democrats took most of the allotted debate time to speak out against the bill, citing lower wages if the bill becomes law.

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, said the cost saving would come at the cost of lower wages for workers.

“One thing is going to happen if this bill is passed,” McCamley said. “Wages for New Mexicans will go down.”

McCamley, along with other Democratic members also raised concerns about Workforce Solutions’ history regarding not properly enforcing current law.

House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, attempted to address the compliance issue by introducing a bill substitution that added provisions that would bar contractors with three violations from obtaining state contracts and raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10.

Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro quashed the attempt when he ruled the substitute out of order due to the minimum wage increase, which he deemed a separate issue. Egolf challenged the ruling which also failed. The House voted 34-33 to uphold Tripp’s decision.

Of the substitute, Egolf said, “This was our attempt to right the ship in this debate.”

Backing up Espinoza in the debate, Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, said passing the bill would actually create and maintain local jobs.

“Because of the prevailing wage bill, there was a project that a lot of local constructors could have done but the bid went to an out of state construction company,” Ezzell said.

The current state law requires that wages for public works projects be paid at a comparable rate with union collective bargaining units. The law is sometimes called the Little Davis Bacon Act, referring to a federal law passed in 1931 which requires the same thing on the federal level.

The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it faces an uphill climb.