If I were to tell you that there’s a one paragraph fix to a Wisconsin law that could reduce the cost of many Wisconsin infrastructure projects by as much as one-third, you’d probably want that approved ASAP, right? Well, the good news is there is a simple fix, and the Legislature ought to approve it, quickly.  

Wisconsin Assembly Bill 450 and Senate Bill 365 were introduced about two months ago, but not much has happened since. The language of these two identical bills is pretty simple – only about 130 words. It simply says that if a local unit of government wants to put in sewage or water piping, it can’t exclude any materials from the bidding process as long as it meets industry standards. In short, it requires open competition in water and sewage projects. 

So why do we need it? 

Well, many municipalities across our state require just one type of piping material, ductile iron, for water infrastructure projects. By restricting the materials that can be used, these local governments are creating monopolies, driving material costs through the roof. If municipalities were able to look at all materials, it’s likely that the prices would go down dramatically. 

A recent study compared cities in Wisconsin that were closed to materials competition and ones that had open competition, and the results were dramatic. It looked at four cities: the closed competition cities of Madison and Milwaukee, and the open competition cities of Kenosha and Waukesha. Not surprisingly, the cities that allowed for open competition saved money, a lot of money, an average of $75,000 per mile on the materials alone.

These savings, which could quickly add up when talking about multi-million dollar water infrastructure projects, could allow for cities to replace even more water pipes or help lower the amount taxpayers are shelling out to pay for the projects.

What’s even more interesting is that these savings aren’t happening just because one material is cheaper than another. According to a study by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the open bidding process alone was often enough to reduce costs. In fact, the study noted that ductile iron pipe dropped in cost by 29 percent in open competition cities due only to the fact that it had to compete against other materials. 

You’re probably asking yourself why this simple, evidence based, change hasn’t been made yet in Wisconsin? I have no idea. It could be lobbying efforts of local governments set in their old ways, the fact it’s an under the radar issue, or that some people just like the word ‘ductile.’ 

And the best part of this simple fix is it still allows for local control as this change doesn’t even require a local government to pick one material over another in the end. All this bill does is requires that the bidding process be open to all materials. The one paragraph change to our law even states that a city can ignore certain materials after the bids come in if, “sound engineering practices suggest that a particular type of piping materials is more appropriate for that particular project.” 

Essentially, the bill just requires open competition in bidding and that local officials have to explain to us, the taxpayers, why they are accepting the higher bid – should they pick that one. 

So, maybe the real reason some are against this bill is transparency – and their desire to have none of it. 

At $75,000 per mile, I think it’s fair to say that these 130 words could save Wisconsin taxpayers millions, if not billions. Why it hasn’t moved at all in the legislative process, and why it wasn’t passed into law a decade ago, is beyond me. I hope our Wisconsin legislators will support this fix, and that they will continue to work to save Wisconsin taxpayers money. 

Rohn Bishop is Chairman of the Republican Party of Fond du Lac County. The opinions expressed are his own.

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