Regulatory Reform

Setting the Record Straight on Open Contracting

An interesting exchange occurred in the Wisconsin Senate last Wednesday. During discussion of a bill that would prohibit the state of Wisconsin or political subdivisions from requiring Project Labor Agreements (PLA) when procuring goods or services, Wisconsin Senator Chris Larson attempted to persuade his colleagues to vote against the measure because it “didn’t originate from Wisconsin” and was actually from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

To support this claim, Senator Larson pointed to the ALEC model Open Contracting Act, a model that similarly prohibits the state and political subdivisions from imposing labor requirements when negotiating contracts. The implication is that the Wisconsin bill came directly from ALEC alone, rather than simply being an idea that would save taxpayer dollars on state construction projects. Fellow Wisconsin Senator and former ALEC National Chair Senator Leah Vukmir, the bill’s lead sponsor, correctly pointed out that it is unsurprising that an organization promoting limited government, free markets and federalism would support a policy that saves taxpayer dollars by opening up procurement processes to more bidders.

In the interest of full understanding, here are a few facts about the Open Contracting Act specifically and about ALEC in general.

  • The model Open Contracting Act was first adopted by ALEC in 1996 and re-approved to remain ALEC model policy in 2013.
  • The Open Contracting Act prohibits public agencies from imposing labor requirements as a condition of performing public works.
  • Prohibitions on project labor agreements do not mean that states cannot hire unionized firms for construction projects, just that this cannot be required.
  • The first state to adopt a prohibition on project labor agreements was Utah in 1995—a year before the policy was adopted by ALEC.
  • Since Utah enacted their legislation, no fewer than 21 other states across the country have also adopted similar legislation.
  • The American Legislative Exchange Council is a membership association of state legislators who routinely bring ideas about programs or policies that work well in their state so that other states can learn from and discuss from those experiences.

It is deeply concerning that the sharing of information about what works and what doesn’t has now become controversial. ALEC exists to foster precisely this kind of exchange so legislators learn from others’ policy successes and failures. Learning about and discussing a policy that is current law in 22 states and has been around for more than 20 years is a powerful mechanism to help legislators better serve their constituents. Ultimately, Wisconsin Senators decided to protect their constituents over the interests of organized labor and the bill was passed. The measure is now headed to the Assembly for consideration.

In Depth: Regulatory Reform

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said that “the sum of good government” was one “which shall restrain men from injuring one another” and “shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry.” Sadly, governments – both federal and state – have ignored this axiom and…

+ Regulatory Reform In Depth