Category Archives: Public.Works

New York’s prevailing wage law: A cost-benefit analysis

Source: Russell Ormiston, Dale Belman, and Matt Hinkel, Economic Policy Institute, November 1, 2017

… State prevailing wage laws across the country have increasingly been assailed by those who appeal to lawmakers’ other responsibility—minimizing taxpayer costs—in an attempt to weaken or repeal these policies. These nationwide campaigns are built almost entirely upon a single argument: higher wages must equate to higher taxpayer costs. … And with a recent publication by the Empire Center (McMahon and Gardner 2017), it has become apparent that some in New York will attempt to pitch the same narrative to state lawmakers. There’s one problem. According to the most advanced economic research on state prevailing wage laws, the simple narrative largely isn’t true.

To separate fact from fiction as it relates to New York’s prevailing wage law, this report provides a thorough cost-benefit analysis of state policy relying extensively on independent, peer-reviewed research. As summarized in this report, academic economists from around the country have made prevailing wage laws a research priority over the last 15 years. In study after study, economists have found no evidence that these laws have had any significant cost effects on the biggest drivers of New York’s capital budget: highways and institutional buildings (e.g., schools). …

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White House says it’s considering increasing the federal gas tax for infrastructure

Source: Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post, October 26, 2017
 
The White House is revisiting an increase in the federal gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvements President Trump promised to deliver on the campaign trail.  That news was conveyed to House members Wednesday in a meeting by Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn. … After campaigning on a promise he would lure private capital to invest in infrastructure, Trump in late April said he would be open to bumping up the federal gas tax, which has not seen an increase since 1993.  Some Democrats, notable among them Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (Ore.), ranking Democrat of the House Transportation Committee, have fought an upstream battle to increase the tax. …

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White House eyes 7-cent gas tax hike for infrastructure plan
Source: Melanie Zanona, The Hill, October 25, 2017
 
The White House may back the first hike in the federal gasoline tax in decades in order to pay for President Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure package.    Trump’s economic adviser Gary Cohn told moderate House lawmakers at a private meeting on Wednesday that they’ll get a chance to vote on a gas tax hike early next year as part of an infrastructure bill, according to two lawmakers who were present. The discussion over the fuel tax during the meeting was first reported by Politico Playbook.  “Cohn seemed receptive to it,” one meeting participant told The Hill.  Separately, an industry source tells The Hill that the White House intends to back a 7-cent gas tax increase to pay for U.S. roads, bridges, highways and other public works, though it’s unclear if the proposal would be included in initial infrastructure legislation or if the administration will push to have it added at the committee level. …

Rural America looks to Trump to help with crumbling infrastructure
Source: Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner, October 16, 2017

Lawmakers and policy experts say the White House cannot forget rural America as it prepares to release the outlines of its infrastructure spending package. … The emphasis on partnerships worried proponents of rural infrastructure investment. Partnerships with private investors face tougher obstacles in rural areas, because it’s difficult for companies in places with smaller populations to generate the revenue needed to sustain the project. …

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Denver’s 34-year deal at DIA might be the city’s first big public-private partnership, but don’t expect it to be the last

Source: Jon Murray, Denver Post, August 13, 2017
 
Denver International Airport’s proposed $1.8 billion terminal deal is poised to launch the city into a different kind of contracting that hands over some control of a publicly owned space to private interests for decades.  Get ready: That complex, 34-year contract could be a harbinger of things to come. Mayor Michael Hancock and other city leaders see promise in public-private partnerships, which infuse both private money and management into public projects, as they prepare to build out the National Western Center with large new event venues, expand the convention center and plot big changes to the Denver Performing Arts Complex. …

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Denver wants to create an office for public-private partnerships, and City Council fears being cut out of the process
Source: Erica Meltzer, Denverite, July 28, 2017
 
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock wants to create an office within city government that will screen, vet and shepherd public-private partnerships related to major city projects, like the redevelopment of the National Western Center and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts — and other projects the city might not even have anticipated yet.  Under the proposal, City Council would get to set the broad parameters of deals, but contracts would be finalized at the administrative level.  The effort is causing major concerns among some City Council members about what authority they’ll give up if the idea goes forward. That concern is only exacerbated as they debate the contract for the Great Hall renovations at Denver International Airport, a public-private partnership that will see Ferrovial and its development partners get paid as much as $1.8 billion over a 34-year period for a $650 million to $770 million project. …

A.C. trash collectors angry service privatized despite council

Source: Christian Hetrick, Press of Atlantic City, May 17, 2017
 
Angry workers and residents criticized the state’s move to privatize trash collection Wednesday night during a long public-comment portion of a City Council meeting.  The meeting came two days after officials running a state takeover of the city bypassed the council to approve a three-year, $7.2 million contract to Gold Medal Environmental of New Jersey, a company in Gloucester County. … City officials say the deal will save the financially-troubled city $1.1 million this year and won’t require layoffs. Sanitation workers will fill vacant positions in the Public Works Department, city and state officials said.  The council tabled a vote to outsource the service three weeks ago after some council members said they never received a cost-savings analysis. …

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State privatizes Atlantic City trash collection without City Council
Source: Christian Hetrick, Press of Atlantic City, May 16, 2017
 
Officials running a state takeover of the city bypassed City Council on Monday to privatize the city’s trash collection.  The state authorized the city administration to award a three-year, $7.2 million contract to Gold Medal Environmental, a private company that will handle the city’s trash and recycling collection. The decision came nearly three weeks after the council pulled a vote to outsource the service.  State Local Government Services Director Timothy Cunningham informed Council President Marty Small of the decision in a letter dated Monday, a copy of which was obtained by The Press of Atlantic City. … The move marks the first time the state has used such power over the council. The state took over the city’s finances in November through the Municipal Stabilization & Recovery Act, which gave state officials authority to pass or repeal any council resolution. Cunningham’s letter specifically cited the state’s power to “procure services” on behalf of the city.

… City administration officials said the contract to Gold Medal will save the city $1.1 million per year without requiring layoffs. The council considered the contract to Gold Medal on April 26, but balked at outsourcing the service after some councilmen said they didn’t have enough information. Those council members, including Councilman Frank Gilliam, had said they never received an analysis comparing the contract to the cost of doing the service in-house. Gilliam said Monday that he had since received a report from city Public Works Director Paul Jerkins, but said the cost analysis didn’t have “legitimate numbers” that justify the savings claimed by the city and state. …

Atlantic City Council to consider privatizing trash collection
Source:Christian Hetrick, Press of Atlantic City, April 25, 2017

City Council will consider privatizing trash collection, awarding a contract for a bike loop and amending rules regarding rolling chairs Wednesday evening. The council is scheduled to vote on awarding Gold Environmental of New Jersey a three-year, $7.2 million contract to handle the city’s trash and recycling collection. The measure is intended to cut costs in the cash-strapped city. The city’s 2017 introduced budget listed a $393,313 savings from its Public Works Department this year. …

Prevailing wage foes prepare new petition drive

Source: Jonathan Oosting, Detroit News, May 15, 2017
 
A pro-business group pushing to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law has drafted new petition language and is seeking advance approval from the state to begin collecting signatures.  The Board of State Canvassers will meet Thursday to consider the form of a petition submitted Protecting Michigan Taxpayers that would lift a 1965 law that generally requires contractors to pay their workers union-rate wages and benefits on state-financed or state-sponsored projects. … The committee raised more than $1.7 million for a similar effort two years ago but failed to advance its initiated legislation after paid circulators gathered an estimated 161,781 invalid signatures, including many duplicates.  Republican state legislative leaders want to repeal the prevailing wage law, which they argue inflates the cost of taxpayer-funded construction projects. But GOP Gov. Rick Snyder has threatened to veto any legislation that reaches his desk, suggesting it could hurt his efforts to build interest in skilled trades careers. …

Valley Stream Contractor Charged With $700K Wage Theft

Source: Timothy Bolger, Long Island Press, May 4, 2017

A contractor from Valley Stream was arrested for allegedly cheating 10 workers out of nearly $700,000 in wages and benefits on taxpayer-funded New York City public school construction projects, authorities said. Vickram Mangru was charged with felony counts failure to pay the prevailing rate of wage or supplements and falsifying business records. He was released without bail following his initial court appearance. … Prosecutors said Mangru paid workers “well below” legally mandated prevailing wage rates on city Department of Education projects in the Bronx between December 2012 and February ‘15. … He was previously debarred and banned for a five-year period from performing public work projects by the city Comptroller’s Office for failing to pay proper prevailing wages to workers, prosecutors said. But the suspect instead changed the name of his company and continued allegedly underpaying workers, authorities said. …

Trump’s Davis-Bacon Quote Turns Construction Industry Heads

Source: Elliot T Dube, Bloomberg BNA, April 14, 2017
 
Construction industry stakeholders got a jolt when President Donald Trump recently approached what a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official called a “third rail issue” for building trades unions: changes to the Davis-Bacon Act. Trump said in a New York Times interview published April 5 that he was “going to make an announcement in two weeks” regarding Davis-Bacon. The law requires contractors on federally funded construction projects to pay prevailing wages for a given area. …

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Trump’s promised announcement on labor law unnerves unions
Source: Lindsay Wise, McClatchy, April 10, 2017
 
President Donald Trump shocked organized labor by saying he would soon have an announcement to make about a law that guarantees wage levels for workers on most federally funded construction projects. And since then, the White House has declined to reveal his position publicly.  But behind closed doors, the Trump team appears to be scrambling in recent days to calm nerves among the very unions whose workers helped power the president’s Election Day victory. After a meeting with White House staff on Monday, Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, said he was confident the president was misquoted or misspoke when he told The New York Times he would make an announcement about the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act. … Signed by President Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression, the Davis-Bacon Act requires contractors hired by the federal government for public works and building projects to pay certain classes of laborers and mechanics at prevailing wage rates. The Department of Labor calculates the rates by county, based on data it collects on similar projects in the area. Conservatives in Trump’s own Republican Party would be delighted if the president announced plans to repeal or replace the law. They say it artificially drives up costs for taxpayers and gives a competitive advantage to unions. Unions are anxious to protect Davis-Bacon, and ensure its wage protections are enshrined in Trump’s promised trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. Any move by the president that threatens the law could jeopardize their support for a Trump infrastructure bill, and thwart its prospects for winning votes from congressional Democrats, the unions’ traditional allies. …

Trump Says He May Use His $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan as a Political Incentive
Source: Reuters, April 5, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was considering packaging a $1 trillion infrastructure plan with either health care or tax reform legislation as an incentive to get support from lawmakers, especially Democrats. Trump also said in an interview with the New York Times he may move up the unveiling of a plan to rebuild the country’s deteriorating roads, bridges and tunnels, which had been expected later this year. … Some of the infrastructure projects may be built through public-private partnerships, Trump said, declining to say how the total spending would split between public and private sources. But he also said that with interest rates low, the government may be better off financing the projects itself. … Trump said he would make an announcement in two weeks about whether he would seek changes to a wage law for federal projects blamed by conservative groups for inflating costs, though he declined to say what the announcement would be. Conservative groups have pressured the White House on the law, known as the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires contractors on federal projects to pay local prevailing wages – a measure backed by labor unions and Democrats. …

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Nearly Half of Construction Firms Hired by Maryland Department of General Services Committed OSHA Violations in the Past 10 Years

Source: Public Citizen, March 14, 2017

Nearly half of the major construction contracts awarded by the state of Maryland’s Department of General Services (DGS) have gone to companies that were cited for worker safety violations, according to a study issued today by Public Citizen. The study examines Maryland DGS-awarded contracts over the past five years, while simultaneously examining available contractor safety and health incident reports over a 10-year period from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) online database. Over the past five years, 46 percent of firms that have been awarded major construction contracts worth $100,000 or more by the Maryland DGS have been cited for worker safety violations by OSHA. Moreover, 35 percent of all DGS-approved vendors have been cited by OSHA for “serious” violations, meaning that OSHA found a hazard that “could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm.” Three of the firms receiving OSHA violations were cited for violations in association with fatalities that occurred on their work sites. Two contractors have had employees die – in Maryland and West Virginia – after being crushed by improperly placed barriers. An employee of a third contractor in Maryland was struck and killed by a car. … The violations in the analysis occurred throughout all of the contractors’ work over the past 10 years, both public and private. Contractors that have been cited have received nearly $146 million in contracts from DGS alone. They have received $370,297 in OSHA fines over the past decade. …

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McComb Mayor Won’t Try to Privatize Public Works

Source: Associated Press, February 20, 2017

Pike County’s largest city won’t try to privatize its public works department. McComb Mayor Whitney Rawlings tells the Enterprise-Journal that he felt department heads weren’t ready to take the move. … An Alabama company, ClearWater solutions, pitched the idea to the city in January. The company runs public works departments and government utilities in several southern states. Some McComb officials said they were worried about whether employees would see cuts to retirement and other benefits if they became employees of ClearWater. …

The Perils of Privatization (Podcast)

Source: Building Local Power, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, January 12, 2017

In this episode, Chris Mitchell, the director of our Community Broadband Networks initiative, interviews David Morris, a co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and the director of the Public Good initiative. The two discuss the climate surrounding privatization in our economy and how the incoming Trump administration will bolster these efforts nationwide. Morris delves deep into the history of public infrastructure including explanations of how our language around the subject has changed over the years, privatization in other countries, and hope for the future.

[Ed. Note: A full transcript of the audio is also available from the source.]