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Labor leader wants new bid law

Dustin Block
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Wisconsin companies always should be allowed to bid on projects paid for with state tax dollars, according to one of the state’s labor leaders.

Ken Kraemer, executive director of Building Advantage Wisconsin, is calling for a new state law after the Kenosha Unified School District let three Illinois companies bid on a project while deciding two Wisconsin companies could not.

Hunzinger Construction Co., Brookfield, and J.P. Cullen & Sons Inc., Janesville, were not allowed to bid on a job restoring Kenosha Unified’s Walter Reuther Central High School because Kenosha Unified determined they were not as qualified as the three finalists they chose. The limestone restoration project is expected to cost $8.5 million.

Kraemer said he does not expect Kenosha Unified to change its mind on the Reuther job. But he wants to ensure companies such as Cullen and Hunzinger are not locked out of future projects.

“What are we going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” Kraemer asked.

Building Advantage called Madison seeking “hooks” in taxpayer dollars that would at least require Wisconsin companies are allowed to bid on jobs paid for with state or local money, he said. The union-supported organization got interested in the issue after Mike Fabishak, executive director of the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee Inc., wrote a letter in April questioning why Hunzinger and Cullen were not allowed to bid on the Kenosha Unified job, Kraemer said.

Both Hunzinger and Cullen have representatives on Building Advantage’s board of directors.

Larry Rocole, vice president of Cullen’s Milwaukee office, said the company is still unhappy with Kenosha Unified’s decision but will not press the issue.

Patrick Finnemore, director of facilities for Kenosha Unified, in a letter to Fabishak dated April 10 defended the district’s record on hiring Wisconsin companies. Less than 1.2 percent of the district’s capital projects during the past nine years have gone to out-of-state contractors, Finnemore wrote.

But Kraemer said common sense dictated Kenosha Unified was wrong to prevent Cullen and Hunzinger from bidding on the Reuther project. Cullen restored the Milwaukee City Hall and the Wisconsin State Capitol, both of which are bigger projects than Kenosha Unified’s school, Kraemer said.

A change in state law is needed to prevent local officials from arbitrarily ruling out Wisconsin companies from competing for work, Kraemer said.

“If we’re going to use taxpayer dollars, it would be nice to put local people to work,” he said, “especially in these tough economic times.”

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