Firms that aid Md. economy may be favored for contracts

June 13, 1996|By A SUN STAFF WRITER

Firms that employ large numbers of Marylanders or pay substantial taxes here would receive a formal advantage in the competition for some state contracts, under a policy approved yesterday in Annapolis by the Board of Public Works.

The policy, which must be approved by a legislative oversight panel, is designed to reduce the amount of state government spending that goes to out-of-state companies.

"We want to do everything possible for the Maryland economy and provide jobs for Marylanders," Gov. Parris N. Glendening said.

Under the policy adopted unanimously by the three-member board, which includes Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon in addition to the governor, companies whose work would have an "economic benefit" to the state would win extra points in competitions for some state contracts.

To gauge that economic benefit, procurement officers would assess the number of jobs a contract would spin off in Maryland, the tax revenue the work would generate in the state, and other factors, such as the amount of work going to small businesses or minority-owned firms in the state.

The policy would apply only to contracts of more than $25,000, in which state officials weigh technical issues along with cost. Contracts that are awarded strictly to the lowest bidder would not be affected by the new rules, officials said.

Since taking office a year and a half ago, Glendening has often grilled agency procurement officers when they appear before the Board of Public Works with contract awards to non-Maryland companies.

Out-of-state firms won about a quarter of state contracts in the past three years. In all, the state spends about $9 billion in goods and services annually.

A task force appointed last year by Glendening and headed by Montgomery County attorney Lawrence A. Shulman considered but rejected the notion of granting in-state firms a preference in state contracting.

Such a measure might have provoked other states to do the same, which could end up hurting Maryland firms.

"We have to recognize that a lot of Maryland firms do work out of the state," Glendening said. "We don't want a series of trade wars."

The policy would represent a significant change in the complicated bidding procedures enacted two decades ago in the wake of bidding scandals that rocked the state.

The processes require public invitation of bids, careful preparation of qualifications and rigid scoring systems for work for which price is not the only concern.

Del. D. Bruce Poole, who served on the procurement task force, said he likes the new policy but warned about possible abuse.

"I think it can be good as long as we can quantify what the benefit to the state is," said Poole, a Democrat from Hagerstown. "You can't pull something out of thin air." The review of the new policy by a legislative panel will take months.

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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