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Our preference is no preferences

By Chris Thompson

Milwaukee’s clumsy law favoring local bidders already has trampled on too many contractors.

The city needs to kill the law before it causes any more damage, and Milwaukee needs to honor the construction industry’s right to competitively bid on projects. It’s the root of equality from which contractors are assured fair opportunity and taxpayers are guaranteed fair prices.

To tamper with that, to tip the scales even slightly, threatens what is ultimately a fragile alliance between business and government.

But Milwaukee, not interested in a soft touch, is taking a hammer to competitive bidding. The city law gives bidding preference to contractors based in Milwaukee. The local preference awards projects to Milwaukee contractors if they are within 5 percent of the low bid as long as the difference is no more than $25,000.

The city has enforced the law three times, and each time the losing contractors either appealed or sued. They say the city should abolish the law, and they’re absolutely right.

They have brought forth a list of arguments against local preference. They say it skews the market, should not be used when state or federal money is involved and will cost the city in the long run.

Each point is correct, but Milwaukee’s error in creating this law is far more basic: Preference is a privilege granted to those who spend their own money.

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