prevailing-wage-150x150-2707838The state Senate’s ruling majority coalition hopes state budget talks will include a “discussion about whether the definition of public work should be updated”—shorthand for whether costly union compensation packages should be imposed on a much larger number of projects subsidized directly or indirectly by taxpayers.

The request to talk about the issue, found on page 92 of the Senate’s budget resolution, marks the second time in two years that Senate Republicans and their Independent Democratic Conference partners have sent up this particular flare in the run-up to budget negotiations.

New York’s building trade unions have sought to expand the “public works” designation—and, with it, the union “prevailing wage” mandate—to a wide range of private construction projects receiving nearly any public subsidy from the state or local governments, including agencies such as Industrial Development Authorities (IDAs).  

As interpreted by the state Labor Department, the prevailing wage law imposes both union hourly pay levels and hyper-expensive benefits on public works projects contracted directly by government, driving up costs by a minimum of 13 percent in parts of upstate to 25 percent in New York City. The law is supposed to apply the compensation levels set by any union contract that covers at least 30 percent of the workers in a given region—a threshold that, federal statistics indicate, is almost certainly not met for most construction occupations outside New York City, or for some within the city as well.

Legislation expanding the definition of public work last year passed the state Assembly but was not voted on in the state Senate, although a Senate version of the proposal has been sponsored by Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Westchester).

Although it’s clearly not a budget issue, the Senate’s “discussion” language signals that coalition leaders want to raise expansion of prevailing wage in their closed-door budget talks—effectively expanding the cloak of secrecy that surrounds the law’s legally questionable application by the Labor Department, which won’t reveal how it calculates the wage.

Expanding prevailing wage would be a huge favor to building trade unions, which is is why senators are again suggesting a secretive “discussion” of the issue in (election-year) budget talks.

If the Senate is really interested in exploring this issue on the merits, why haven’t they scheduled a public hearing on the issue?

About the Author

Ken Girardin

Ken Girardin is the Empire Center’s Director of Strategic Initiatives.

Read more by Ken Girardin

You may also like

Cuomo Administration Ducks Important Questions on Nursing Homes

A new report from the state Health Department tries to deflect blame for thousands of coronavirus deaths in the state's nursing homes—but undermines its own case by withholding data and engaging in tendentious analysis. Read More

Nursing Home Vacancy Rate Soars, Hinting at a Higher Coronavirus Toll

The vacancy rate in New York's nursing homes has more than doubled since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that the death toll among residents may be thousands higher than officially reported. Read More

Hospitalization rising in some areas

Coronavirus hospitalizations are surging in parts of upstate, including three regions that the Cuomo administration authorized to begin reopening today. Read More

Essential Plan surplus hits $3B

As Governor Cuomo pleads for financial help from Washington, one of his state's programs is sitting on $3 billion in unspent federal aid: the Essential Plan. Read More

More fiscal turmoil for Medicaid

In a sign of pandemic-related strain on state finances, the Cuomo administration is postponing a series of multi-billion-dollar Medicaid payments over the next three months. Read More

Upstate escapes the worst

With the coronavirus pandemic hitting some parts of New York much harder than others, Governor Cuomo has signaled that he will begin to relax shutdown restrictions in low-virus parts of the state. Here's a closer look at how infection and fatality rates vary from region to region. Read More

Another Medicaid payment delay

State Medicaid spending dropped to nearly zero in March as the Cuomo administration again delayed payments to balance the state's books. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's cash report for March, posted on Wednesday, showed just $9.2 million in Medicaid disbursements. The state's share of Medicaid spending averages almost $2 billion per month. The comptroller's numbers reflect so-called Department of Health Medicaid, which covers the bulk of the program but excludes most spending on recipients with mental disabilities. Read More

Why New York?

#NYCoronavirus: It's increasingly apparent that New York is suffering more severely from the coronavirus pandemic than any other part of the U.S. and most of the rest of the world – raising stark questions for city and state leaders. What is it about New York, and especially New York City, that made it especially vulnerable to infection and death? And how can that be changed before the next virus breaks loose? Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130
E-Mail: info@empirecenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.