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Critics of bid law revision fear best deals could be missed

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Saturday, Oct. 1, 2011

Supporters of legislation that would allow government agencies to stop advertising and seeking bids for small-scale projects say it would cut costs and streamline government.

Detractors argue it would result in less transparency and fewer good deals.

"I don't know why you wouldn't want to advertise everything so you can try to get the best deal possible. It helps keep prices down when you have many people bidding for something," said Angela Zaydon, director of legal and public policy for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association.

"I also think it could cut out many small businesses that might depend on small projects to survive," Zaydon said.

The legislation would allow Pennsylvania agencies to forego placing advertisements and seeking competitive bids for projects and purchases under $18,500. They would be required to seek at least three phone or written quotes for projects ranging from $10,000 to $18,499. The amounts would change annually based on the consumer price index.

Currently, the law requires ads and bidding for projects of $10,000 or more, and phone or written bids for projects of at least $4,000.

The Senate approved the changes on Tuesday. The House is expected to do so within weeks, said legislators and their aides.

The newspaper association fought a version of the legislation that passed the House with a bid limit of $25,000. Zaydon said the lobbying group negotiated with legislators to lower the specified limit and won't fight the amounts the Senate recommended.

The bid limit hasn't changed since 1978. Today, the $10,000 is worth about $34,746, according to .

"When the bidding requirements were put in place years ago, it reflected the economy at the time," said Elam Herr, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. "What you could buy at the time with that amount of money, you can't buy today."

Elam disputed that changing the law would lessen government openness, noting that governmental bodies still would approve spending at public meetings.

"Even for people who are the most cynical of government, you have to give some leeway that the officials will do what the law says they are supposed to do. There are enough laws there that if someone crosses the line, people will find out, and there are ramifications," Herr said.

Neither Herr nor legislators the Tribune-Review contacted could project how much money the legislation might save government agencies.

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