February 9, 1995 in City

Nethercutt Would End Wage Controls On Federal Projects

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Rep. George Nethercutt signed on Wednesday to repeal a key piece of labor legislation that controls wages on federal projects.

Repeal of the 64-year-old Davis-Bacon Act would help save money and cut the federal deficit, the Spokane Republican contends. “I look at it as a cost-saving measure,” Nethercutt said of his cosponsorship of HR500, one of six GOP bills to which he is adding his name. “Everybody has to engage in some sacrifice as we try to deal with this debt and deficit.”

The response from organized labor was quick and negative.

“We’re appalled and disappointed,” said Karen Keiser, spokeswoman for the state Labor Council. “Rep. Nethercutt had pledged to be fair and not march in lockstep with the Republicans.”

Davis-Bacon requires contractors who work on federal projects to pay a “prevailing wage.” Nethercutt said this results in unacceptably high labor costs on taxpayerfinanced projects.

Union leaders responded Wednesday that it is one of the few quality controls on projects that are awarded to the lowest bidder. Without it, contractors can import cheaper, less-experienced workers, they said. “Davis-Bacon was passed to protect the local labor force,” said Dave Morris of the Spokane Building and Trades Council. “The Republican Party has tried to repeal it ever since they proposed and sold it.”

Passed in 1931, the law originally was sponsored by Republican congressmen.

Nethercutt argued it was a law whose time had come, and gone.

Washington Republicans have introduced proposals to repeal a similar state law in the Legislature. Labor groups plan a rally on Feb. 20 in Olympia against all attacks on Davis-Bacon.

In his campaign against thenSpeaker Tom Foley, Nethercutt hedged on whether he would support an end to Davis-Bacon. That brought charges from Foley that the Republican challenger was refusing to take a stand on an issue that could cost him votes.

Nethercutt said he solidified his position after talking with members of rural utility districts and school boards who told him the law forces up the cost of projects.

Union leaders argue that repealing the law won’t bring the costs down, it will just lower wages and increase the profits for contractors. The freshman Republican said he hadn’t seen any such studies, and hoped to hear about them during upcoming hearings.

Other proposals Nethercutt said he will support include the restoration of two tax deductions, one for medical insurance costs of the selfemployed and the other for home office expenses.

Another proposal would double the estate and gift-tax exemption, allowing the head of a family to will up to $1.2 million to his or her family members before taxes kicked in.

Nethercutt said the change would help keep family farms and businesses together after the death of a family head, because land, livestock and equipment often have values that far exceed the current exemption of $600,000.

Another proposal would create “Super Individual Retirement Accounts,” which could be tapped before retirement for catastrophic medical expenses, a first-home purchase or education costs.

The last would require persons receiving federal financial aid to prove they are current on any childsupport payments they owe.

Nethercutt said that was not aimed solely at persons on welfare. Persons seeking a Small Business Administration loan, a college loan or even the heads of corporations seeking federal assistance would be required to prove they are paying child support or have made a “good faith effort” to settle disputed payments.

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