In a recent decision, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department has found that amendments to the centuries-old Wicks law, which treated municipalities differently depending on their locations, were constitutional as the state has a “substantial concern” in controlling the cost of construction projects paid for by taxpayers. The Wicks law requires local governments to hire multiple contractors for public construction projects beyond a certain financial limit. Up to 2008, this limit was $50,000, but then the state lawmakers raised the threshold to $3 million in New York City and to $1.5 million in Long Island and Westchester County. For the other counties of New York the threshold was raised to $500,000.
However, several plaintiffs led by the Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors filed a lawsuit last year alleging that the new limits had been set arbitrarily. The plaintiffs alleged that the amendments to the Wicks Law violated the home rule doctrine of the state constitution, which prevents the legislature from passing laws that apply only to some municipalities to the exclusion of others.
Writing for the court, Justice Rose Sconiers observed, “Plaintiffs' allegations … amount to no more than a claim that state funds are not being spent wisely.” The appeals court also observed that the plaintiffs had failed to meet their burden of negating “every conceivable basis which might support the 2008 amendments.”
However Justice Erin Peradotto and Justice John Centra dissented and said that the legislature had failed to justify the differing limits for application of the Wicks law as proposed by the amendments. Justice Peradotto wrote, “although a tiered classification system based on geographic disparities in construction costs may be reasonable and appropriate, the specific monetary thresholds in this case are arbitrary and unsupported by the legislative record.'
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The 2008 amendments also allow a municipality to opt out of Wicks Law requirements and hire a single contractor if it appoints a single contractor through the process of collective bargaining with the contractor's union. In order to qualify for the exemption from Wicks the contractor needs to participate in an apprenticeship program.
Critics of the Wicks Law hold that the law causes delays and increases the costs of projects while lowering the quality of construction carried out by multiple contractors. It also raises the chances of litigation. However proponents of the law say that the law promotes fair competition and protects workers' rights by compelling contractors to maintain safety standards.