In Indiana, a St. Joseph County Council committee has been grappling with a bill that would give an advantage to local firms bidding on public works projects. After approving the bill 4-2 along party lines, the committee sent the “Responsible Bidder Ordinance” to the full county council for a vote, only to have the council send the RBO back to committee.
The RBO itself is by no means a new concept:
For purposes of awarding contracts on county projects, such as road and bridge work, the ordinance would reduce by 5 percent the bids submitted by firms that have had a place of business in the county for at least a year. Firms from bordering Indiana counties would receive a 1-percent credit.
But pro-labor connotations have made the bill contentious in a state where Republican Governor Mike Pence has set out to undermine fair labor laws. Via the South Bend Tribune:
Although it doesn’t mention “unions,” the ordinance also requires companies to show evidence that their workers have completed apprenticeship and training programs, something that would exclude many non-union shops. Earlier this year, the GOP-controlled Indiana General Assembly passed a bill, signed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, overturning the prevailing wage law, which had required firms awarded public works projects to pay wages that often fall within union scales.
In an op-ed for the paper, St. Joseph City Council representatives Diana Hess and Robert Kruszynski Jr. set out to make the case for the RBO, asserting its positive impact on all workers, not just those who are unionized:
Supporting the RBO demonstrates to our taxpayers that county officials are committed to responsible spending of tax dollars. And the best use of those tax dollars is spending them locally whenever possible. Local contractors tend to employ local workers creating a stronger local tax base, lower unemployment and more dollars circulating through local businesses. Further, the training and apprenticeship requirements help promote high-paying skilled jobs in local economies while keeping work sites safe.
The purpose of an RBO is to ensure local governments hire only professional, competent contractors who will perform the highest quality work — efficiently, safely, on time and on budget. RBOs set clear, objective criteria that contractors must meet to be eligible to bid and work on public works construction projects.
They close with a common sense appeal across party lines:
Similar ordinances have been passed by Republican and Democratic mayors, commissioners and councils from around the state who realize that an RBO is a “good tool to protect our taxpayers’ investments” (Mayor Greg Goodnight, Kokomo).
There are currently 29 RBOs in effect in the state of Indiana.