By Dorothy Johnson.
With literally hundreds of bills moving through the California Legislature, there are bound to be a few that don’t pass the smell test. One of those is AB 1250 — a recently amended bill that claims to increase “transparency” in local government contracting, but would in reality increase costs and do nothing to improve many of the basic services local governments provide to our communities. It’s important to note that the bill was significantly amended just last week, but the changes do not ease its most onerous provisions and the adage that “misery loves company” rings true. The current version now applies to all counties – not just general law counties.
There are many reasons local governments contract for services. In some cases they do not have the financial resources to hire full-time employees. Particularly in rural and remote areas it can be very difficult to attract qualified candidates for employment. For many local governments, contracting for service, whether it be for legal representation or janitorial services, is the only viable option.
While the bill’s proponents claim AB 1250 is about making local government contracting more transparent, the actual impact would be to make the process more difficult and complex without adding benefit for service recipients. AB 1250 inserts a series of complex and costly information gathering and reporting requirements in the contracting process. As the San Jose Mercury News puts it, AB 1250 would impose “a labyrinth of disclosure rules and vague auditing and performance standards.”
Originally, the bill required the local government agency to jump these hurdles. The more recent version places that burden on contractors instead, but that doesn’t really change the impact. Many service providers will simply choose not to do business with public agencies if they know they are going to be required to comply with a new, complex and costly process. Even in its new form, AB 1250 would still effectively remove contracting for services as an option for cities and counties statewide, resulting in either higher costs or reduced services.
Moreover, AB 1250 is just bad public policy. We have local governments for a reason — to make decisions that reflect local budgets, priorities and situations. AB 1250 effectively negates local governing boards’ decision-making authority in how they provide services to their constituents. City Councils and Boards of Supervisors would effectively lose contracting for service as an option. That serves no one well. There are much easier ways to improve accountability that do not effectively eliminate an important tool local governments use to contain costs, as seen with other successful legislative efforts in recent years. Basic decisions about how to serve local needs should remain at the local level.