As the saying goes, March comes “in like a lion and out like a lamb,” and the same can be said for state lawmaking in early 2016. Eleven state legislatures are expected to adjourn at the end of March, completing the first wave of a frenzy of state legislative activity that is largely controlled by Republicans.

The results of the 2015 elections continued a historic trend of GOP dominance in state politics. Since 2008, Republicans have picked up more than 900 new legislative seats and 30 new legislative chambers. Republicans now control 69 out of 99 state legislative chambers (an all-time high), 31 out of 50 governor’s mansions, 32 out of 45 lieutenant governorships, and 27 out of 50 secretaries of state. Of the 7,383 state lawmakers across the country, just 3,172—or 43 percent—are Democrats.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D) victory over U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R) in Louisiana’s 2015 gubernatorial contest was the only notable bright spot for Democrats in the last state election cycle. In contrast, Matt Bevin became only the third Republican elected governor of Kentucky since World War II.

Members of the GOP hold total control of the governor’s office and full legislature in 24 states—compared to Democrats’ seven—and hold majorities in 23 chambers in states President Obama carried twice, including both chambers in traditional presidential battlegrounds Florida, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Republican lawmakers in the nation’s capital benefit from gains at the state level. For example, congressional redistricting largely controlled by state GOP lawmakers during the Tea Party wave of 2010 helped protect the GOP’s 58-seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Pundits predict the second largest House GOP majority in history is unlikely to shrink much and could easily expand assuming the 2016 GOP presidential candidate motivates the party base and avoids costly blunders that could contribute to political losses down-ticket.

Additionally, future population migration to GOP-governed states and the GOP’s growing strength in state capitals point to long-term power in Congress following redistricting in 2020.

Recent Legislative Activity
Throughout the United States, GOP lawmakers will continue the trend of advancing free enterprise-focused policies supported by Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and the merit shop contracting community.

In 2015, Nevada, West Virginia and Arkansas enacted signature ABC legislation restricting anti-competitive and costly government-​mandated project labor agreements (PLAs). A total of 22 states have passed similar measures, and 20 states have ensured government neutrality in government contracting since President Obama issued his 2009 pro-PLA Executive Order 13502 encouraging federal agencies to mandate PLAs on federal and federally assisted construction contracts exceeding $25 million.

Last year, GOP lawmakers moved to reduce construction costs and increase opportunities for small businesses by successfully repealing Indiana’s outdated and costly prevailing wage law, while West Virginia, Wisconsin and Nevada reformed their respective state prevailing wage laws.

Wisconsin also became the 25th state to pass Right to Work legislation. In Missouri, a bipartisan effort to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a Right to Work bill came up short by just a handful of votes.

On Feb. 12, the West Virginia legislature voted to override Gov. Tomblin’s (D) vetoes of its prevailing wage repeal bill and the West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act, making West Virginia the 26th Right to Work state in the country.

New ABC Scorecard
In December 2015, ABC launched “Building America: The Merit Shop Scorecard,” which reviews and grades state-specific information significant to the success of the commercial and industrial merit shop construction industry.

The scorecard website, meritshopscorecard.org, identifies states that have created an environment where merit shop contractors are well positioned to succeed and states where strategic improvements need to be made in order to create a merit shop-friendly business climate.

Stakeholders can find state-​specific, construction-focused research and grades for a state’s PLA mandate, prevailing wage and Right to Work policies, as well as their construction job growth rate, commitment to developing a well-trained workforce, level of flexibility in career and technical education curricula, and use of public-private partnerships.

The Merit Shop Scorecard is a useful comparative tool for industry stakeholders to understand how state policies affect the ability of merit shop contractors to conduct business. Lawmakers can use it to ensure the conditions are right for industry job creation, while developers and construction owners can use it to gain insight when considering where to expand operations.

The scorecard highlights high-performing states that have enacted policies opposing anti-competitive schemes and restrictive, cost-inflating mandates. It also identifies low-performing states that have failed to foster environments where businesses can thrive, invest and create construction jobs in local communities.

Top ranked states such as Arizona, Louisiana and Virginia all received high marks for enacting PLA, prevailing wage and Right to Work policies that favor free enterprise. Conversely, low-performing states such as New Mexico, Alaska and New York earned a D or F grade for their policies.

The second edition of the scorecard, expected to be released in the fourth quarter of 2016, will provide new state rankings reflecting changes in merit shop policies and the construction economy in the past 12 months.


Ben Brubeck is vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs at Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email brubeck@abc.org.