Milwaukee County’s flirtation with bidding preference is the first brick in a wall that will segregate the local construction industry.
Of course, county supervisors Johnny Thomas and Theo Lipscomb, in proposing their preference resolution, are implying local applies only to those people who live in Milwaukee County. The supervisors want to form a committee to draft rules that give a public works bidding advantage to the company that employs the most Milwaukee County residents.
As is the case with many such policies, it comes from a good place but lacks common sense. With a larger-than-normal construction budget, the supervisors want to make sure the money is funneled into the county’s economy through county residents.
They’re hung up on the notion that the only way to stimulate the county’s economy is to practically place the money in the hands of people who live there. It’s an old-fashioned idea with an outdated emphasis on the importance of a county line.
Those Milwaukee County residents are just as likely to spend their money elsewhere as people who live on the “wrong” side of the border are to spend their money in the county.
The concept of a regional economy, apparently, is lost on these supervisors, as is the likelihood that the first low bidder to lose a job because of this preference will be the first to sue the county over the policy.
Bidding laws are designed to create balance, to give each interested and responsible bidder a fair shot at winning a project. To tip the balance of the law is to unfairly block contractors from work they very possibly deserve.
Yet as Milwaukee County builds its wall, at least it can rest assured “local” residents are doing the work.
Chris Thompson is the editor of The Daily Reporter. He has a preference for strong portfolios, no matter the county.