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Scaled-back bidding-threshold bill scheduled for committee vote

As lawmakers prepare to vote on a bill that would both increase the thresholds that determine when public projects must be put out to bid and subject school districts to the state’s competitive-bidding rules, a school-board association says its opposition to the proposal has only increased in recent months.

A Republican-backed bill would raise the statutory threshold determining when a public project must be put out to bid, taking it up from $25,000 to $50,000. Although that would double the current requirement, the proposal is actually scaled back from its original version. At first, lawmaker had wanted to require bidding for projects estimated to cost $75,000 or more.

The propoasl, officially named Senate Bill 236, received a public hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Commerce and Local Government. That same panel was scheduled to formally vote on the proposal Thursday morning.

Even in its original form, the proposal was not welcomed by school associations. Now, with the bidding threshold lowered to $50,000, it has only gotten worse, said Dan Rossmiller, government relations director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

School districts are now among a small handful of governmental agencies that are not required to follow competitive-bidding procedures for their projects.

Although some districts have chosen to adopt their own bidding requirements, many others choose to do without. Rossmiller said school officials like their current discretion and are generally uncomfortable with the idea that they may soon be forced to always go with the lowest-cost offer.

Rossmiller said the burden of public bidding would become only more onerous if the proposed bidding threshold were set at $50,000, rather than the originally proposed $75,000. That change could require relatively small jobs – the repainting of a school gymnasium, for instance – to be put out to bid. When a project is so small, Rossmiller said, the costs involved in publicly advertising the work could easily outrun any savings that would be realized from having contractors compete to turn in the lowest price.

“We didn’t like it before, but now we don’t like it even more,” he said.

The reduced threshold hasn’t turned off the Wisconsin Counties Association, however.

“We’re pretty comfortable with the bill, as we’re supporting it,” said Dan Bahr, government affairs associate with Wisconsin Counties Association. He noted that most legislation is the subject of compromise, and this one is no exception.

The legislation has meanwhile won lukewarm support from the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, an organization that mostly represents non-union companies.

John Schulze, director of legal and government affairs for ABC of Wisconsin, said ABC officials were particularly concerned about the original version of the proposal. If the bidding threshold were raised to $75,000, companies would lose their current ability to win small jobs by submitting low bids.

Schulze said the ABC can live with the threshold being set at $50,000.

“Regardless, ABC of WI believes that requiring public schools to be bound by lowest responsible bidder like virtually every other public project in Wisconsin will deliver more taxpayer value while maintaining quality and safety,” he said in a written statement.

About Alex Zank, alex.zank@dailyreporter.com

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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