Champaign County lawmaker proposes scrapping prevailing wage laws

A state lawmaker has proposed eliminating the prevailing wage for construction projects across the state and said changes are on the way as early to provide tax relief to some Ohio farmers.

State Sen. Matt Huffman, a Republican who represents Champaign County, told a group of Champaign County business leaders this week about legislation he’s introduced to relax Ohio’s prevailing wage requirements for cities, villages and townships, among other entities.

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Prevailing wages are the hourly wages, benefits and overtime required to be paid to workers on public projects that exceed a certain cost. Opponents of Huffman’s proposal, including members of the Affiliated Construction Trades of Ohio, say the laws are necessary to protect construction workers’ wages and encourage contractors to invest in worker training and safety programs, among other benefits.

The prevailing wage helped support close to $50 million in private apprenticeship training investment in the state last year, said Matthew Szollisi, executive director for ACT Ohio. He also argued the prevailing wage law prevents out-of-of state contractors from undercutting Ohio companies for contracts.

“At a time when investors looking at Ohio are concerned about workforce shortages, the last thing the legislature should be looking at is legislation that would reduce investment in workforce training,” Szollisi said.

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But Huffman said the rules mean higher construction costs for local governments. Statewide the prevailing wage is usually close to the market rate for those types of jobs, but he argued governments in areas like Champaign County where costs are lower could save money if they didn’t have to pay the prevailing wages.

“Local governments should decide for themselves how much they want to pay to whatever vendors they have,” Huffman said.

The Ohio Senate approved changes Wednesday to the Current Agricultural Use Value formula as early as today. The CAUV is a roughly 40-year-old formula designed to keep taxes more palatable for farmers, and to deter them from selling their land to commercial developers.

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The original formula was designed to provide tax relief to farmers, said Huffman. But in its current form has caused taxes to triple in some cases, Huffman said.

Lawmakers in the Ohio House have attached similar language regarding the CAUV to a proposed state budget, said Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau. The next step will be for state lawmakers to decide which method they prefer to pass the legislation, he said.

Changing the formula has been one of the Farm Bureau’s biggest priorities over the past several years, Cornely said.

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“The consequences of these higher taxes are magnified by the fact they’re coming at the same time that we’ve seen a historic drop in farm income,” Cornely said.

Huffman also discussed the region’s drug epidemic. State lawmaker have taken some action, including attempting to shut down so-called pill mills, in which physicians provide easy access to prescription drugs. But he said addressing the problem will require several solutions, including boosting penalties for individuals distributing fentanyl.

“This is going to require dozens of solutions to attack a big problem,” he said.

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