Legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly could have major consequences for the public, not only with regards to transparency in local government but also in creating opportunities for corruption.
The state legislature is considering an amendment to a state law, raising the bid limit from $10,000 to $25,000, allowing county governments to no longer require competitive sealed bids for anything less than $25,000. The legislation not only raises the limit, but no longer requires public notice, making it easier for local governments to make deals behind closed doors.
The legislation reads:
“All purchases, leases, or lease-purchase arrangements with expenditures of less than twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) in any fiscal year may be made in the open market without newspaper notice, but shall, wherever possible, be based upon at least three (3) competitive bids, proposals, or quotes.”
The language of competitive bids, proposals and quotes may sound reassuring, but the lack of a formal bidding process could still leave taxpayers in the dark about how their government is spending its tax dollars.
Our government has an obligation to be transparent. One of the best ways to ensure that is to have actions like the awarding of contracts for items or services be as open and competitive as possible.
Raising the bid limit could eliminate competition, creating the possibility of some companies being favored in the bidding or quoting process. Local governments may seek out bids or quotes, but without a competitive bidding process all competitors may not be aware of or given the opportunity to submit a bid or quote.
That doesn’t just possibly hurt local businesses, but may also mean our tax dollars are not being spent wisely. It is in the public’s best interest to have the lowest, most qualified bid on any project or purchase procured by local government.
There is a reasonable argument for supporting raising the bid limit — rising costs and the delay formal bidding brings about for needed items — but the concerns of raising the bid limit far outweigh any benefits.