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Frostman column: Rewarding Wisconsin workers

Caleb Frostman

Being a relative newcomer to politics and government, I'm astonished at how often the word "agenda" is thrown around. Listening to soundbites and reading headlines, apparently, everybody has one and they're something to be afraid of.

From a professional communication standpoint, I just hope everyone's agenda is neatly formatted with bulletpoints and is less than a page.

Having sifted and winnowed through what's true from what's false when it comes to bluster and hot air, I've come to interpret "agenda" as meaning a collection of values or a set of proposals that reflect, or when put into action would manifest, those values.

The values reflected by Gov. Evers' 2019-21 budget proposals include equal opportunity, strategic investment and ensuring that all participants in Wisconsin's workforce and economy have a fair shot at sustained economic well-being.

One of the specific proposals that most clearly articulates the values of investing wisely and providing opportunity for economic well-being is the restoration of prevailing wage in Wisconsin.

Wisconsinites have clearly stated that when their tax dollars are being used in public projects, they want the wages paid and benefits provided on those projects to stay in their community. And they want the wage to be a fair, living wage and the benefits to be family-supporting, representative of what is typical for that work in that area.

Too often, after the repeal of prevailing wage, out-of-state contractors are able to win bids on public projects by under-cutting local businesses. They pay their workers a low wage and provide inadequate benefits, while likely maintaining their top-line profit.

The result is Wisconsin communities missing out on the long-term impact of fair wages paid to local workers who would have invested in their homes, their vehicles, and their communities. When the out-of-state workers finish their project and go home, they take their wages and accrued benefits, however meager, with them.

And although one might expect higher wages to lead to higher taxpayer costs, that's not the case. Research reveals that high-wage contractors attract higher skilled and more productive workers that can use the industry's most advanced equipment and technology. Their improved efficiencies offset their higher labor costs.

Rather than enabling out-of-state companies to exploit their workers whose wages aren't invested in Wisconsin communities, restoring prevailing wage is smart policy for our state's businesses, it's working families and our economy. It is an important part of Gov. Evers' economic agenda.

Caleb Frostman is secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.