Davis-Bacon Not Burning

Davis-Bacon wage requirements likely will remain intact during this year's Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act reauthorization, according to congressional aides and industry officials.

Most Republicans want to repeal the 1931 law requiring contractors building federally funded projects to pay workers the area's "prevailing wage," which is often close to the union wage. But efforts in Congress last year to repeal the law failed, and Republicans and industry officials say they see no point in fighting those battles again on a transportation bill that will see plenty of strife.

"You've got a cease-fire on Davis-Bacon right now," said a representative of a general contractors group that supports repeal, adding, "Why muck up the highway bill?"

American Road and Transportation Builders Association Vice President William Toohey said: "The fewer number of contentious issues in ISTEA, the better off we all are. The focus of both management and labor should be the funding levels and streamlining of ISTEA."

With the administration proposal to spend $175 billion over six years on transportation projects -- and several members of Congress advocating even more spending -- the ISTEA reauthorization seemed sure to provide one of the biggest targets for Davis-Bacon repeal efforts.

Jennifer Boucher, chairwoman of The Coalition to Repeal Davis-Bacon, said her group will work hard this session for a broad repeal of the law -- along with targeted repeals in large federal contracting bills like ISTEA. Boucher and other contractors argue that Davis-Bacon wage requirements raise the costs of those projects.

Both House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Shuster and Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Chafee support repeal of Davis-Bacon -- but aides said there is no desire by either chairman to change the Davis-Bacon law for ISTEA's transportation contracts. Sources said Davis-Bacon opponents are reluctant to repeat the losses suffered last year when repeal efforts were stripped out of the reconciliation bill in the House, and out of the National Highway System bill in the Senate.

"We won a lot of support for Davis-Bacon last year among some of the most conservative House members," a labor union lobbyist said.

But aides noted a small area of ISTEA that may draw interest with regard to Davis-Bacon. The last ISTEA law set up a 10-state pilot program of infrastructure banks to help finance transportation projects. Like revolving funds for the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Davis-Bacon wage requirements apply to the projects financed by the pilot infrastructure banks. But the requirements do not apply to money paid back into the fund, which is then loaned to a second project.

The administration's National Economic Crossroads Transportation Efficiency Act would not only expand the pilot program to all states, but also apply Davis-Bacon requirements to all money loaned by those State Infrastructure Banks -- not just the money originating with the federal government. Sources said Shuster and Chafee are not expected to include that plan in their ISTEA bills.

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