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Let construction training law die First move by Legislature is bad for businesses and union members

If the first law the new Erie County Legislature passed in 2006 is any indication, the lawmakers already forgot why they were elected: To cut costs and make government more efficient. Making county construction work more expensive via this law fails that test.

That's a certain outcome of Local Law No. 1, which County Executive Joel A. Giambra rightly vetoed. The Legislature may find 10 votes Thursday to override that veto, since it passed 11-4 with mostly Democrats in favor.

The law is badly written, for starters, and in essence does the reverse of what it seeks. Its backers celebrate it as increasing job training for county residents, especially minorities and women, and as a chance to provide jobs to keep young people here. But the law itself requires both that 10 percent of construction work be done by participants in a state-approved apprenticeship program and, in direct contradiction, that any construction worker on a county project must have already completed such a program, which would rule out apprentices still in training.

That also rules out a lot of non-union shops, which may please Democrat-backing unions, but a "diploma" requirement also would rule out any apprentices, including union ones. Even more confounding, a lot of established union workers haven't served approved apprenticeships. Local 210 laborers, whose program approvals were suspended during a federal investigation, for instance, would not qualify; nor would specialty workers and Teamsters in unions without approved apprenticeship programs. According to federal statistics, only 4 percent of construction workers have such certifications. This bad law eliminates most of the work force, including skilled, lifelong workers whose experience trumps any apprenticeships.

Small companies -- typically the ones a healthy economy is built on -- would also be hurt. They would have to set up and win state approval for costly apprenticeship programs for workers who would need to train for five or six years, at a cost of $25,000 each, before earning journeyman certification. The irony here is that for years many of those workers likely were employed as skilled journeymen, lacking only this bureaucratic stamp of approval. And the small companies hurt include firms owned by minorities or women, which can't afford them, even if apprenticeship programs eventually succeed in creating more trained workers in those categories.

With fewer firms jumping hurdles to bid on county work, the county gets hurt too. Less competition, higher costs. Higher costs, higher taxes -- or fewer county services.

Legislature Democrats see this as a long-term investment "on the side of righteousness," sponsoring Legislator Tim Kennedy said. But it's a horribly flawed effort. Here's urging that at least two Democrats, elected as they were on pledges of independence and not knuckling under to party bosses, as legislative leaders clearly have, will change their votes and let the veto stand. This law hurts nearly everyone involved.

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