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While the 2014 congressional elections will attract the most attention from pundits and the national media, state-level elections are likely to have the greatest impact on the business community and average Americans. As a result of the 2010 and 2012 elections, single-party control has gripped state capitals across the nation. In fact, elected officials from one political party control 36 state governments. As a result, gridlock in Washington is contrasted by state leaders adopting and implementing both conservative and liberal public policy agendas. 

In 2014, voters in many states have the opportunity to reject or affirm their support for these agendas. The voters’ decisions could have significant and lasting consequences for merit shop contractors and their skilled craft professionals. 

State leaders such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) came to office as common-sense reformers, but (for different reasons) have become the face of state-level labor reform. After four years of state governments enacting significant labor reform measures, organized labor has signaled that defeating leaders such as Govs. Walker, Kasich and Snyder is a top priority in 2014.

Upon taking office, Gov. Walker discovered the fastest way to guarantee the future fiscal solvency of the state and its local governments was to reform how public sector employee unions bargain with their employers. While organized labor, progressive advocacy groups and liberal media outlets worked to delay the enactment of the transformative reforms by staging protests outside the capitol and coaxing state senators to leave for several weeks, the measures ultimately were passed with positive impacts on state and local budgets.

Similarly, Gov. Kasich realized the importance of public sector employee union reform in Ohio early in his term. While the reforms he worked with lawmakers to enact ultimately were repealed through a ballot initiative, the effort sparked an ongoing conversation about the role of public and private sector unions in building Ohio’s future.

Additionally, in 2012 lawmakers passed legislation to make Michigan the 24th Right to Work state after voters overwhelmingly rejected a comprehensive pro-union ballot initiative supported by the United Auto Workers. Right to Work laws prohibit workers from being forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment. Gov. Snyder signed the bill in December 2012 and immediately became an electoral target for organized labor in 2014.

The gubernatorial races featuring Walker, Kasich and Snyder—and the legislative races in those states—will be some of the most watched in the country. Organized labor has promised to support vigorous campaigns against all three governors, each of whom stood up to politically powerful union bosses on behalf of their constituents. Their reelection would signal to other elected leaders that the public overwhelming supports bold action. If these governors are defeated and Republicans lose control of these legislative chambers, these states will become part of the cautionary tales union bosses and circumspect political consultants use to discourage future leaders from undertaking important labor-related reforms.

The merit shop construction community has a particular interest in the state-level elections this year beyond the high-profile labor reforms adopted in the Midwest. Since 2011, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) has worked with lawmakers in a number of states to increase opportunities for contractors to compete for projects funded by their own tax dollars. Many states have proven to be places where advocates of free enterprise can work with elected officials to improve the business environment for the construction industry.

Since the 2010 Republican wave, 14 states enacted laws prohibiting state and local government from requiring contractors to enter into project labor agreements (PLA) as a condition of performing work on public construction projects. In addition, several states enacted significant reforms to their state prevailing wage requirements, including Tennessee, where lawmakers repealed their state prevailing wage requirement on vertical construction projects. These reforms will increase opportunities for ABC members to grow their companies and create jobs. 

The stakes are high in 2014. With Washington poised to face a divided government again after the election, governors and legislators at the state level may be the only ones in a position to enact meaningful pro-business reforms until after 2016.  

Andy Conlin is director of state and local affairs for Associated Builders and Contractors. For more information, email conlin@abc.org.

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