- Associated Press - Friday, April 21, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Some Maine legislators want to change the way the state awards hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts.

Many Democrats are backing bills that would create ways to review state contracts and evaluate whether they provide economic value. Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration and private contractors say the current system already has enough checks and balances to protect taxpayer dollars.

Democratic Assistant Senate Leader Nate Libby said the current system allows contracts to be awarded on political grounds, and is sponsoring a bill to establish a board that would review procurement contracts worth more than $1 million.

“Today, the procurement system operates largely in a vacuum, with the executive branch able to spend vast sums of taxpayer dollars on contracts that may or may not be in the public interest,” he said at a Wednesday committee hearing on the bill.

But Department of Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt said Libby’s bill could limit Maine’s ability to complete timely, cost-efficient projects and warned that that could hinder the state’s response to hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The Associated General Contractors of Maine also expressed concerns, saying the current bid process is already transparent and that creating an appointed review board could make the process political.

Two bills sponsored by Democrats Sen. Shenna Bellows and Rep. Charlotte Warren would require a review process when state agencies want to privatize state services. Republican Sens. Thomas Saviello and Scott Cyrway are co-sponsoring Bellows’ bill.

Bellows expressed concern earlier this month about privatization initiatives” that have left taxpayers on the hook for more money. She said outsourcing is necessary in cases where the state lacks expertise or where it would save money over the long term.

But Robert Weaver, director of governmental and legislative affairs for the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said the bills “create a process so onerous that it is unlikely that state agencies would be able to contract out for services going forward, even if such a contract would result in taxpayer savings and better service offerings.”

Weaver said state agencies that contract out services do so in “the most efficient and cost-effective way possible” using competitive bidding.

The bills are getting support from unions that say the state has no sound public process to make privatization decisions that can cost public sector jobs. Barbara Theriault, a state social worker, said also that outsourcing creates confusion and trust issues for people with developmental disabilities who use the services.

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