A new bill introduced in the Tennessee General Assembly by State Sen. Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) may reduce government transparency in notifying local businesses of bids.
The bill proposes that it would increase from $10,000 or more to $25,000 or more the amount for which a local board of education or the governing body of a public charter school must make purchases or expenditures by competitive bids.
Moreover, the bill would amend language in Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 49-2-203(a) (3)(B), which currently mandates that “all purchases [made by a governing body] of less than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) may be made in the open market without newspaper notice,” raising that figure to twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000). In doing so, the bill would allow local governing bodies to accept bids from local businesses without first notifying the public, so long as the target bid is under $25,000. Since this new figure would be more than double that currently included in state law, it may allow for purchases that would otherwise be bid on by small businesses to be made without many of those business even being made aware of the opportunity.
Carol Daniels, Executive Director of the Tennessee Press Association, has voiced concern to her peers over this new bill.
“This means that all contracts below $25,000 can be given out to businesses without any notification to the community,” she said. “I have spoken to several local businesses who said a $10,000 contract is significant and important to their success. The increase in the threshold for public notification is an opportunity for insider deals and corruption to happen in our communities. Our governing entities have an obligation to be transparent and to proactively let citizens know how government is spending their taxes. By allowing this bill to pass I think we would be allowing our elected and appointed officials to operate without public knowledge and scrutiny backwards from transparency. With over a billion dollars that will be spent in Tennessee in 2021, every contractor, every business deserves the right to bid on these contracts.”
The proposal of this bill comes after Tennessee legislators assembled the most expensive budget to date, with the present budget making room for $2.8 billion more than last year. As of now, the bill has been successfully introduced but has not yet reached committee.