Originally, LD 1525, which was brought forward by Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, was intended to encourage state government to purchase Maine-made products and to contract services from Maine businesses. Creating and supporting good Maine jobs – especially in and around Windham – is a top priority for me in Augusta, and this bill helps do that by ensuring that we give our business to Maine-based companies and services at every opportunity, and American goods and businesses when Maine options are unavailable.
To further strengthen the bill, my colleague Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, offered an amendment that calls for the creation of a procurement review board to evaluate all state contracts worth $1 million or more. Currently, state departments and agencies can act alone when deciding where to spend state money and how to complete a project.
Rep. Golden’s amendment, which I support, would increase transparency, help ensure that Windham taxpayer money is being used wisely and make sure that if we must contract out work, we are getting the best deal possible and working with qualified contractors.
The new procurement review board would consist of five members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate. Members would be industry professionals who have experience procuring large-scale contracts. The board would review potential contracts, conduct research and hold hearings to gather information and hear concerns from the public. To win board approval, the contract would have to be the most cost-efficient. The board would be required to always give a first look to businesses within our state for the goods and services we need.
This kind of policy would have been useful in the case of the Casco Bay Bridge, where a massive state contract was awarded to an out-of-state company. The deal was made without being seen by members of the public or the Transportation Committee, and it didn’t even save the state any money. If this bill had been law at that time, the procurement board could have tried to keep these jobs in our economy, and given the public a chance to weigh in.
Another instance where this amendment could be useful is the Department of Health and Human Services’ current plan to privatize the ASPIRE program, a state program that helps TANF recipients find work. The department is seeking bids that would likely end up going to an out-of-state, for-profit vendor, putting at risk the jobs of Mainers who have been recognized for their ability to help other Mainers find employment.
When we are talking about millions of dollars in taxpayer money and important state services, increasing transparency through an independent review board is the right thing to do. We need to have a careful approach when it comes to big shifts in how government is providing services to Maine people.
The bill is currently being discussed in the State and Local Government Committee, on which I serve. If you have questions or comments about this or any other issue, please feel welcome to call me at 892-6591 or email me at email@example.com.
Rep. Mark Bryant is serving his fifth non-consecutive term in the Maine House and represents part of Windham. He serves on the Committee on State and Local Government and the Committee on Transportation.