It is remarkable that school districts are one of the only government bodies that can do massive construction projects without putting it out to bid. Given the school-construction-industrial-complex that has sprung up in Wisconsin (now, apparently aided by hired gun Gard), reform is necessary.
With a prominent Wisconsin lawmaker irked that a record could be set for approvals of school projects this year, a lobbying group has emerged to block legislation that could upend the state’s school-referendum system.
Former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker John Gard has registered as a lobbyist for an organization called the Wisconsin Construction Group, which advocates for “school construction and school referendums.” Gard filed a disclosure form with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission on Thursday — one day after a Wisconsin Policy Forum report found that state voters will have the opportunity in November to approve a record $2 billion worth of school referendum spending this year.
The prospect that a record could be set has irked Wisconsin Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, who has promised to again pursue legislation that would curtail the use of school referendums. Stroebel has also criticized construction companies for offering so-called pre-referendum services to help school districts win voters’ approval for spending proposals.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Stroebel deemed Wisconsin’s current system for school projects uncompetitive. He noted that school districts, unlike most other forms of government, are not required to bid out their projects, even those whose cost runs into millions of dollars.
A proposal Stroebel sponsored in the most recent legislative session, Senate Bill 236, would have required school districts to bid out such projects. The bill passed the Wisconsin Senate but failed in the Assembly. Stroebel blamed lobbyists “who don’t want transparency.”
“I am not surprised Mr. Gard is involved as he has been one of the go to lobbyists for anyone opposing reform in the construction industry in recent years at the expense of the taxpayer,” Stroebel said. “There is nothing inherently wrong with a school district seeking technical expertise from a company, but the way construction companies advertise their services shows the real world unspoken understanding. ‘You give me the contract. I’ll help pass your referendum’. The question should be, will you deliver the best building at the best price?”