The Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) took a big step forward this month in helping to ensure that TIF-funded projects are built by construction workers employed in high quality jobs. The adoption of two policies linking job quality standards to subsidized development projects represents a key economic development reform for Denver. The credit for this shift goes to the Prevailing Wage Committee, a grassroots organization composed of representatives of the building trades, and FRESC (formerly known as the Front Range Economic Strategy Center) who have been working toward this achievement for more than a year.
For over 50 years, Denver has had a law requiring the payment of prevailing wages for construction and other site maintenance work performed by private contractors and subcontractors on projects that are publicly owned or “financed in whole or part” by the city. This law wasn’t applied consistently, however, and the city spent nearly a half of a billion dollars on TIF projects over the last decade, many of which didn’t require the payment of family-supporting wages.
DURA’s new rule applies Denver’s Prevailing Wage Policy to trunk infrastructure construction on TIF-funded development. Trunk infrastructure includes any work done on roads, public utilities, parks, police stations, libraries and more. The policy includes provisions for regular and overtime pay, fringe benefits and timely payment of employees. DURA further adopted the Enhanced Training Opportunity Policy, which requires all projects to dedicate one percent of their TIF allocation towards workforce training of existing and potential workers as well as small or disadvantaged construction business owners.
Though there are numerous types of development subsidies to which reforms such as job quality standards may be attached, there are not many specific to TIF projects. Denver joins Maine; West Virginia; Davenport and Des Moines, Iowa; Hartford, Connecticut; Missoula, Montana; and Los Angeles as jurisdictions that mandate such standards.
As one of the largest purchasers of construction services, government has significant power to bolster wages in the industry. The move by DURA toward guaranteeing good jobs in TIF projects represents a solid investment in stronger communities and more accountable development.