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Restore the exemption ; Prevailing wage inaction likely to kill several local projects

Forcing an unjustifiable wage increase on a project that sharply jacks up its cost is a terrible idea, but that is exactly what the Erie County Legislature did last week.

The Legislature failed to reauthorize a measure that would have exempted recipients of funding through the Buffalo & Erie County Industrial Land Development Corp. from a mandate that they pay prevailing wages on their projects.

Prevailing wages in the Buffalo area usually mean union wages, but private-sector unions no longer have the members they used to have, and many workers in the area are non-union. Prevailing wage ultimately defeats itself, because most developers will shy away from the cost of a high union wage and use non-union workers who truly set the region's pay scale.

The likely immediate cost will be the loss of eight major projects by non-profit organizations. Those projects reflected an investment of $95 million and were projected to create or protect 1,850 jobs. Gone.

The projects involved Canisius and Medaille colleges, the Baker Victory Services' new residential treatment facility for troubled children and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, among others.

County Executive Chris Collins said: "If they have to provide a prevailing wage on these jobs, there won't be any projects."

And that's only one of detriments of forcing non-economic expenses on a project. These kind of decisions also drive away executives who might otherwise consider locating new businesses in Western New York. Why would a company come to this region to pay more when it could go elsewhere and pay less?

Those who try to force these increased wage expenses through political bodies believe they are representing a worthy cause, but the consequence is harsh: People lose work they might otherwise have had. It's a short-sighted strategy.

Members of the Legislature evidently bowed to pressure, but did their constituents a terrible disservice. They ought to correct their mistake as soon as possible.

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