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Wisconsin Spotlight | Dec. 23, 2020

MADISON — Despite attempts by the Evers administration to wipe out the regulatory reforms that have helped fuel a Badger State building boom, Wisconsin moved up in a new ranking of the construction business climate. 

The Top 5 ranking, in fact, underscores the success of the free-market initiatives led by former Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-led Legislature.  

Associated Builders & Contractors’ annual Merit Shop Scorecard ranks Wisconsin No.5, up three spots from last year — positive movement that highlights the state’s business environment for merit shop construction contractors. The merit shop philosophy encourages open competition and a free enterprise approach that awards contracts based solely on merit, regardless of labor affiliation.

ABC’s Scorecard gives Wisconsin high marks in several key measures, including the state’s right-to-work law, project labor agreement policy, prevailing wage mandates and career and technical education. 

The 2017-2019 state budget, under Act 59, repealed Wisconsin’s laws on prevailing wage, requiring employers to pay workers the hourly wage and fringe benefits paid to the majority of workers in a particular county. 

That same year, a reform bill signed by Walker made Project Labor Agreements, government public construction projects awarded exclusively to unionized firms, illegal. 

Wisconsin became the 23rd state to put a law on the books restricting PLAs. 

“Accountable government means ensuring our taxpayers receive quality service,” Walker said in signing the bill in 2017. “By forbidding state and local governments from requiring contractors to enter into agreements with labor organizations, we’re promoting healthy competition between contractors. At the end of the day, this means the contractor ultimately chosen for the project is the one that has demonstrated excellent service and will work at good value for Wisconsin taxpayers.”

While an analysis of Wisconsin taxpayer savings has not been completed, a study earlier this year by the Beacon Hill Institute found Connecticut schools built under government-mandated PLAs cost nearly 20 percent more than schools bid and constructed through open competition. Eliminating mandated Project Labor Agreements would have saved taxpayers $503 million between 2001 and 2019, the report found. 

Wisconsin became the 25th right-to-work state in 2015, when Walker signed into law a bill that ended compulsory union dues. 

In his first biennial budget proposal, Gov. Tony Evers vowed to rollback the Walker era reforms so loathed by one of Evers’ biggest political allies, Big Labor. 

“We’re going to begin to undo the harm that has been done to organized labor,” Evers told the Wisconsin AFL-CIO Building Trades Conference in March 2019. He sought to undo right-to-work and nix the state’s prevailing wage reforms. 

The governor also pitched a $15 minimum wage. 

His proposals went nowhere in the Republican-led Legislature. 

With the free-market reforms in place, Wisconsin continues to climb in ABC’s rankings, moving from 26th on the 2015 scorecard to 5th in the latest rankings. 

Wisconsin ranks higher than all its neighboring states, including Iowa (7th), Michigan (15th), Minnesota (41st) and Illinois (46th), the report found.  

“Wisconsin’s improved construction business climate and focus on ensuring a level playing field for all contractors is great, and even more impressive while maintaining high building standards and safety, and investments in training to close the skills gap,” said John Mielke, president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin. “While all Wisconsinites should be proud of the top five ranking, we will continue to work with public policy makers to promote ideas that will attract additional business investment that benefits the Wisconsin construction economy.”

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