By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—A new bill making its way though the State House would overturn the State’s longstanding law requiring bids on public works projects.
Under the new law, most schools, municipal building and even college stadiums would not require that companies propose bids to receive taxpayer funded projects.
“This new law is being influenced by the big contractors and they’re saying that it’s been approved by AGC [Associated General Contractors] and ABC [Association Of Building Contractors] and that they are speaking for those associations; but it’s just not so,” says Rush Stallings of Montgomery-based Bear Brothers Construction.
HB275 Sponsored by Rep. Mark Tuggle (R-Alexander City) would allow contractors and subcontractors on public works projects to be hand-picked from a select, few companies without going through the normal bidding process.
The Construction Manager-General Contractor at Risk Bill would, according to it critics, would favor mega-builders like Birmingham-based Brasfield/Gorrie at which Tuggle’s brother Michael holds a prominent position.
As Chairman of the State Government Committee, Tuggle gaveled the bill out with a favorable report, after he tabled a request for a roll-call vote.
(This violates committee rules)
Critics of the new law contend that HB275 and its Senate companion SB239, is a government handout for large-scale contractors and will harm small and medium sized businesses, minority businesses, and any future start ups.
The new law if enacted would eliminate the traditional, transparent bidding process known as, Design-Bid-Build for projects above a certain floor (As the bill currently stands, no-bids would occur on project above $15 million but the number keeps changing).
“We’ve had [this] in place for many years for Public Works projects…why is this big change needed?” said Stallings. “The current bid system is open and public and the taxpayer’s dollars are protected by that process.”
Proponents of the bill say it is a cost-saving measure that would allow agencies to work with select providers, offering efficiency to publicly financed projects.
“They are saying this will save money. Well, there’s no way it can save money,” said Brad Norris of Norris Construction. Norris, who also serves as President of ACA continued, “You’re adding another tier to a construction process, plus, you’re eliminating the bid process. Common sense will tell you that there’s no way this can work properly.”
In fact, in Florida, which has a similar state law, a Grand Jury investigation found that, “In reality, it is an abomination that has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars that wind up as excess profits in the hands of contractors ‘lucky’ enough to snare one of these lucrative contracts.”
The Grand Jury also discovered that, “Using this method [Construction Manager at Risk]…typically results in paying about 20 – 30 percent more than if the project had simply gone to the lowest bidder through a hard bid process.”
A report by the Miami Herald shows that in Broward County, the County School Board had engaged in “wasteful and dubious spending on ill conceived ideas,” and that the Board members had “direct[ed] that spending towards friends, acquaintances or supporters of Board members without any accountability.”
Behind the scenes, House Speaker Mike Hubbard is pushing House members to support this bill, even though he stands charged by the State with 23 felony count of public corruption.
In Oregon, similar legislation is said to have led to “problems included, but are not limited to: The use of pre qualifications that exceed the scope of work of the project; bid scoring methods that are not disclosed and applied differently for contractors bidding on the same work; bid shopping; and the lack of timely debriefings to explain to why unsuccessful subcontractors were not awarded the contract.”
Norris seems to believe that this bill is a situation rife with conflicts of interest, and crony capitalism that current bid law outlaws.
“We’ve required bids on public works projects for decades. This would allow for legislators or those with powerful interests in business to determine the winners and losers in public works projects,” said Norris.
There are billions of taxpayer dollars that go to fund public projects. Opponents of this bill believe this will harm small to medium-sized contractors and subcontractors, and reward those who have thousands of dollars to “reward” legislators