Plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the state’s Wicks Law scored a partial victory Thursday when the State Court of Appeals called for a review of a portion of the law that forces bidders on public projects to offer apprenticeship programs.
The Wicks Law, enacted in 1912, requires multiple contractors on government projects as a means to prevent corruption in the awarding of contracts. Critics complain that the law not only drives up the costs of public building projects, but that amendments made to the 101-year-old statute back in 2008 introduced a discriminatory element to the law.
“We are encouraged by the New York Court of Appeals’ decision on our clients’ challenges to the 2008 amendments to the wasteful Wicks Law,” said Timothy W. Hoover of Phillips Lytle, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
While the court remanded a portion of the case to the trial court for litigation to determine whether the state’s apprenticeship requirements are constitutional, the court upheld a lower state court decision affirming the state’s right to set eligibility thresholds that are higher vdownstate than they are on upstate projects.
Prior to changes adopted by the state Legislature in 2008, the Wicks Law kicked in for all public projects in the state valued at $500,000 or more. The amendments established new thresholds that were no longer uniform. They were set at $3 million for public projects within the five counties of New York City; $1.5 million for public construction projects on Long Island and in Westchester County; and at $500,000 for projects that were bid in counties elsewhere throughout the state, including in Erie and Niagara counties.
However, the Appeals Court sharply narrowed the scope of the apprenticeship requirements that were imposed by the 2008 amendments to the Wicks Law and previously upheld by the lower court.
“The 2008 amendments were motivated by the blatant exclusion of well-qualified contractors from public works contracting,” said Hoover, arguing that the apprenticeship requirements are onerous for many smaller contractors, including the vast majority of women- and minority-owned companies competing for contracts.
“Such exclusions are unconscionable when they drive up costs to municipalities and taxpayers. All contractors should have a fair chance and stand on equal ground in public contracting. The Wicks Law has cost the taxpayers over $10 billion since its enactment and continues to do so,” he added.
Hoover said Associated Builders and Contractors and other parties in the lawsuit will continue to press their legal fight against the Wicks Law, which he called “anti-Western New York, anti-quality, anti-business and anti-taxpayer.” Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney General’s Office, said the state will continue to defend the statute.