Bill to stop local preference in bidding clears committee

Jan 30, 2012

Should home-town businesses be given extra consideration when local governments are making contracting decisions? Some state lawmakers say no – not when Florida’s money is involved anyway. Regan McCarthy reports a bill moving through the legislature would prevent local governments from giving preference to local companies when letting contracts that use state money.

Senator David Simmons says ordinances that give preference to local business could be costing Florida more money and he says they could exclude worthy companies in the state.

“We’re using arbitrary boundaries of cities. If you’re in outside a city you’re discriminated against in bidding within that city. If you’re outside a county and you’re right next door, you just happen to be within a thousand feet, you’re going to be discriminated against.”

Representative Simmons, a Republican from Altamonte Springs is the author of Senate Bill 1460. The bill would prevent a local government from giving a community based business special consideration in letting a contract when state money is partially funding the project. Simmons says the practice of giving a home-town business preference is becoming increasingly common, but he says it’s bad for the state.

“The research indicates that local preference policies increase the cost of government and a policy that favors local businesses interferes with free-market competition and it drives up prices. It invites abuse and an even cozier relationship with government and those that win its contracts”

Simmons says when state agencies consider bids, officials are required to select the lowest “responsible bidder.”  But he says when picking a “responsible bidder” the state can take any number of things into account like the “difficulty of providing services or goods.”  He says under his bill, local governments could have that same leeway. But he says a specific requirement giving preference to local bidders puts a significant disadvantage on more distant contractors who deserve a level playing field. Senator Garrett Richter, a Republican from Naples, who supports the measure, compares the situation to a little league baseball game that uses volunteer coaches from the community.

“There’s a number of objectives in a little league baseball game, and one of the objectives is to win the ballgame. And lots of times you get a coach who puts his son in to pitch when a lot of times he’s not the best pitcher, which is kind of like a local preference if you will. If you really want to win the game you need to put the best pitcher in there. And at the end of the day this isn’t baseball. This tax payers dollars and when we’re spending tax payers dollars I’d like to have the best pitcher in there.”

Senator Jim Norman, a Republican from Tampa, cast the only vote against the bill in the Senate Community Affairs Committee. Norman says he likes the idea of keeping local money local.

“I buy into terminology, that you know, buy American, that’s not a bad thing for me. I’m trying to get to a point where we identify American products, American’s goods, and we go that route.”

Norman says he thinks it would make sense to limit the weight a business’s home-town could have on a contracting decision. Senator Ronda Storms, a Republican from Brandon also spoke against the bill. She says she worries the measure would take work away from Floridians and possibly even out of the country.

“So I guess the question is do you think its okay to outsource call centers and things like that to India just to save a buck and put all of our own people out of work?”

The bill passed through the Senate Community Affairs Committee 6 – to – 1. It has three more committee stops to go. A similar bill is moving through the House.