Representative Jim Neely's Capitol Report
Greetings, friends of the 8th Legislative District!
House Gives Initial Approval to Bill to Repeal Prevailing Wage Law (HBs 1729, 1621 & 1436)
The Missouri House gave first-round approval to legislation meant to make public construction projects more affordable for taxpayers. The bill would repeal Missouri’s prevailing wage law to help reduce the cost of construction and maintenance projects for municipalities and school districts.
Missouri’s existing prevailing wage law sets a minimum salary that must be paid to individuals working on public projects, such as the construction or repair of bridges, school buildings, and fire stations. If the prevailing wage law is repealed, bidders on such projects would pay the state or federal minimum wage, whichever is higher. Contractors and subcontractors would be permitted to pay higher than the minimum wage, but that would not be a requirement.
The sponsor of the bill said eliminating the prevailing wage would allow public tax dollars to accomplish more in any given project because the law artificially inflates the wages paid to workers. As he told his colleagues, “Imagine our state as we go into the future being able to, at the same cost of building a road for 100 miles; be able to build 110 miles. Imagine being able to repair 11 bridges for the same cost for what you can [repair] 10 bridges for now.”
Supporters say that prevailing wage causes communities and school districts to pay too much for needed construction or maintenance, or to forego the projects entirely. Supporters also stress that removing the prevailing wage requirement would allow the state to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars.
Those who oppose the bill say the prevailing wage would be lower in rural areas if it were mandatory that contractor wages be reported. If wages were reported then prevailing wage would better reflect local economies, and the law would work as originally intended. They say repealing prevailing wage would not actually save public dollars, but rather shift costs from political subdivisions to the state as lower wages will consequentially lead people to seek more public assistance.
The bill now requires another vote in the House before it moves to the Senate. If the bill is signed into law, Missouri will join states such as Kentucky, West Virginia, and Indiana, which have all repealed their prevailing wage laws in recent years. Missouri would become the twenty-third state without a prevailing wage law.
Increasing STEM Career Awareness (HB 1623)
Legislators took time last week to observe the state’s annual STEM Day, and this week took action by approving legislation that would establish a statewide program designed to promote careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The legislation is modeled after successful programs in Tennessee and Arkansas that have helped promote the importance of the STEM fields to young people.
The bill would require the state Department of Economic Development to establish the STEM Career Awareness Program to increase awareness of careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for students in grades six through eight. The program would involve online-based curriculum that would raise awareness of more than eighty different careers and technologies, and would be organized around the concept of solving societal or human-centered problems. The bill would require the department to have the program in place by the 2019-20 school year.
The bill would also require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop a high school graduation policy that allows a student to fulfill a unit of academic credit with a district-approved computer science course for any math, science, or practical arts unit required for high school graduation. In addition, it would require the State Board of Education to convene a work group to develop and recommend academic performance standards relating to computer science. Finally, it would create the Computer Science Education Fund to provide teachers with professional development programs relating to computer science.
Proponents of the legislation say it is critical to promote the importance of STEM careers in order to support the economies of the state and the nation. They say a lack of awareness of STEM fields is what is keeping many young people from pursuing careers in these areas. They note there are many unfilled programming and coding jobs in the computer technology field. By giving students increased exposure to these careers, the state can better prepare the next generation of Missourians to succeed in the fastest growing job sector.
House Budget Proposal Begins to Take Shape
The chairman of the House Budget Committee this week unveiled his versions of the appropriations bills that will make up the Fiscal Year 2019 state operating budget. The bills include some key changes from the recommendations made by the governor.
One such change calls for the K-12 School Foundation Formula to be fully funded. The governor has called for a $50 million increase to spending for elementary and secondary education. The budget proposed by the committee would add another $48 million to the governor’s funding recommendation for an increase that is $98 million above the Fiscal Year 2018 appropriation level.
Because of uncertainty with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) at the federal level, the Budget Committee took a fiscally responsible approach last year by opting to protect Missouri’s at-risk children without relying on federal funds. Now that funding for the program has been extended through Fiscal Year 2023, there are approximately $80 million in state revenues available for use in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.
The chairman of the House Budget Committee is recommending that a portion of these funds be used to restore the governor’s recommended core cuts to higher education. Right now, House leaders are working with the state’s institutions of higher learning to ensure tuition isn’t raised for students and families. If no agreement can be reached, the chairman is recommending the additional dollars be used