Democrat Sutton seeks investigation of prevailing wage story

Ohio Statehouse. (WDTN Photo/Paul Rodzinka)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Democrat Betty Sutton called Monday for an investigation into the facts behind an anecdote that a state lawmaker told in justifying an effort to relax Ohio’s prevailing wage law.

In a letter to Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, the ex-congresswoman and gubernatorial candidate said that a story that state Sen. Matt Huffman shared with reporters in February could constitute illegal and corrupt misuse of tax dollars. DeWine is also a likely candidate for governor next year.

Huffman, a Lima Republican, said during a news conference that a mayor in his district had “a buddy” construct a building to avoid the high cost of paying union-scale prevailing wage on the project. His bill would allow local municipalities to opt out of paying prevailing wage.

“A local mayor in my part of the state — who should remain nameless, probably wants to go through the war anonymously — explained that they needed a building for their local village and he had a buddy of his build it for him, and they bought it off of him at a lesser price just to avoid paying the prevailing wage,” Huffman said at the time. “That’s not the way we should have things done.”

Questioned by reporters at the time, Huffman denied knowing the mayor’s identity and said he hadn’t thought to report the incident. A message seeking comment on Sutton’s letter was left at his law office Monday.

Sutton said the issue deserves review.

“Ohio’s prevailing wage law has effectively protected workers and provided contractors, and other taxpayers, with a more sustainable workforce for decades,” she said. “Since Senator Huffman won’t request an investigation into the possible corruption of steering taxpayer dollars to a ‘buddy’ or circumventing laws that protect Ohio workers, I will.”

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for DeWine’s office, said Ohio law designates a Cabinet-level regulatory agency to handle prevailing wage issues. It’s the wage and hour section of the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Division of Industrial Compliance.

Tierney said the attorney general’s office would wait to review Sutton’s letter before determining whether her request should be forwarded there for further action. Sutton also has raised concern that the official’s actions could constitute an ethics violation.

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