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Indiana House sends construction wage law repeal to governor

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Conservative groups and Gov. Mike Pence gained a victory Thursday with final legislative approval for a bill repealing Indiana’s law for setting wages on public construction projects.

The Indiana House voted 54-40 in favor of the repeal, even with 13 Republicans splitting from the GOP supermajority to join Democrats in opposing the measure.

The bill, which supporters acknowledged included drafting mistakes, will eliminate the boards that set what is known as the common construction wage which workers must be paid on most state or local government projects. The House vote came a day after the Senate approved the repeal in a 27-22 and three days after a few thousand people attended an outdoor Statehouse rally opposing the bill.

Pence and other repeal supporters say it would save tens of millions of tax dollars each year by cutting much as 20 percent from the cost of building projects as more contractors would be allowed to pay wages below union scale. Opponents dispute that such savings will occur and argue the change will open the door for low-paying, out-of-state contractors.

Republican Rep. Martin Carbaugh of Fort Wayne said even smaller savings than claimed by repeal advocates would be a benefit.

“This is about the taxpayer and getting the most bang for our buck,” Carbaugh said. “As our communities get strapped with (property) tax caps, we have to look for ways to have efficiency in how we pay for these projects.”

Pence has said he will sign the repeal, which his campaign committee promoted through social media and television ads in which the governor appeared.

House Democrats lambasted the repeal as being pushed by out-of-state conservative groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, a political organization backed by industrialist billionaires Charles and David Koch that bought radio ads in Indiana to support the bill.

Democratic Rep. David Niezgodski of South Bend argued the repeal would simply drive down pay for workers and lead to contractors from low-wage states underbidding on Indiana projects.

“They are going to come in here and they’re going to do the work and they’re not going to leave one single dime on our table,” he said. “They are going to go take it all back home laughing.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, denied that political interest were behind the repeal and maintained there was no logic to the arguments that Indiana contractors and union workers would see great harm.

The repeal effort comes three years after Republicans pushed through a right-to-work law that drew thousands of union protesters to the Statehouse.

Republicans called the repeal bill for a final vote Thursday even though Torr acknowledged that it contained drafting errors, which he said would be fixed with additions to another measure before the General Assembly’s April 29 adjournment deadline.

House Speaker Brian Bosma said the mistakes were “minor technical issues” that would be resolved.

“Quite frankly, no one wanted to have an extended conference committee process on this,” Bosma said. “It would just provide an opportunity for more of the bloviation that we heard today that is really based more on emotion than it is on policy.”