Debate about the prevailing wage comes around almost every time the Legislature gets ready to meet. It was discussed again on Tuesday.
Kelsey Lucas, the Prineville/Crook County director for Economic Development for Central Oregon, briefed the House Interim Committee on Economic Recovery and Prosperity on how the state’s economic incentives helped lure tech firms and more to Central Oregon.
The discussion later turned to questions of if the benefits the state hands out are worth what it gets in return. Do the companies that get tax benefits have good health care and child care for their workers?
Oregon — and other states — also have something called the prevailing wage. It’s the rate that must be paid to construction workers on all public works projects in Oregon. It can be higher than the market rate. When private companies get tax incentives to locate or expand in Oregon should they be required to pay prevailing wage on construction?
The precise economic impact of that change in policy is not an easy question to answer. In general, it would mean increased construction costs. And the worry is adding the requirement would offset a substantial share of the tax benefit incentives offered by the state. But better wages for Oregon workers have benefits, too.
Maybe in the shorter 2022 session legislators won’t be asked to vote on this matter, but they will be voting on it again.