DOVER, Del. — Gov. John Carney has agreed to scrap plans for a public hearing next week on proposed rule changes regarding Delaware’s prevailing wage law, which was a bone of contention during recent budget negotiations in the legislature.
In a letter to Carney, Republican legislative leaders noted Thursday that the proposed changes, quietly developed by the state Department of Labor, were never mentioned during lengthy discussions by lawmakers regarding the prevailing wage.
“Additionally, it is our understanding that at a minimum you and your senior staff were apparently completely unaware of this initiative,” read the letter, signed by the GOP minority leaders and whips in the House and Senate.
While thanking Carney for calling off the July 21 hearing, Republicans said they were disappointed the labor department would come out with the proposed regulations one week after the session ended — and schedule a public hearing late on a Friday afternoon in July.
“Given our knowledge of the DOL’s activities and enforcement around prevailing wage issues, we do not believe that these actions or activities were an accident of timing. We believe that DOL is a rogue agency whose enforcement of this program raises many questions,” GOP lawmakers said.
Jonathan Starkey, a spokesman for Carney, said in an email that the governor believes it is appropriate to delay the regulatory process to allow more discussion. Starkey didn’t answer questions about when and how Carney became aware of the issue, or whether anyone in the DOL informed his office before publishing the proposed rule changes.
The prevailing wage law sets pay scales, often driven by union wages, for laborers on public works projects. Republicans say it unnecessarily and artificially drives up taxpayer costs on government construction projects. During budget talks, Republicans insisted on reforms to the prevailing wage law before any consideration of Democratic proposals to raise income taxes.
After failing for the first time in modern history to agree on a budget by the dawn of the July 1 fiscal year, lawmakers quickly reached a budget compromise in an “extraordinary session” called by Carney. That came after Democrats gave up their insistence on raising personal income taxes and Republicans agreed to drop demands for prevailing wage reforms.
Meanwhile, a notice of the proposed regulatory changes was included in the July issue of the monthly register of regulations.
“Though we will not list the many details in these proposals that would be harmful to Delaware, we believe that these regulations are in some cases unconstitutional and represent a breach of our system of checks and balances,” GOP lawmakers wrote in Thursday’s letter.
The proposed changes include extending the prevailing wage to truck drivers on job sites and allowing foremen who devote any time to mechanic or laborer duties to be considered laborers and mechanics for that time. The proposed regulatory changes suggest that truck drivers are not covered by the prevailing wage for their time on a construction site, and that foremen must devote more than 20 percent of their time to mechanic or laborer duties in order to qualify for the prevailing wage.
Also, current law states that if no data are received during an annual survey for a given job classification, or if the information is considered inadequate, the previous year’s prevailing rates shall be reissued. Under a proposed change, the prevailing wage rate would be determined by the highest rate in the past four years, plus the Consumer Price Index.
“The intent of the proposed changes was to put into regulation what is already current practice around prevailing wage, not to make changes about how and when prevailing wages apply,” said Leon Tucker, a spokesman for the Department of Labor, in an email.