Myths collide with realities in our public discussions

“That’s not a lie. It’s a terminological inexactitude.” — Alexander Haig.

It’s interesting to hear the mythology that sometimes surrounds public issues. Especially when the myths seem to circle back again and again. Here’s a personal favorite: 

“Only the private sector creates real employment.”

Hmmm.

What about your friends and neighbors working for five of Mesa County’s top ten employers listed in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Your Chamber 2012” publication? School District 51’s the largest. It and the state of Colorado, Mesa County, Colorado Mesa University, and the city of Grand Junction together provided 6,346 jobs as of December 2010, the latest figures available. 

The five private employers in the top 10 provided 4,792 jobs, and you might argue that the government played a big role in at least half of those. St. Mary’s Hospital and Medical Center, listed second with 2,068 employees, likely gets a substantial portion of its revenue from federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid and the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program. And I’ll bet a good chunk of No. 5 Halliburton’s 700 person workforce helps extract energy from mineral leases under government lands.

Other top 15 employers in Mesa County also rely on government funding to support at least part of their workforce. They include No. 11 Community Hospital, No. 12 Hilltop Community Resources, No. 13 Family Health West, and No. 15 Mesa Developmental Services.

What about those folks building Grand Junction’s public safety facilities or that new dorm for CMU at the corner of 12th and Orchard? Their checks may come from private companies, but there’s no doubt those are government projects. As were the remodel for Mesa County’s new administrative building, the county’s shop and animal control facilities out by the landfill, the recently completed 29 Road project, that infamous fence around the airport formerly known as Walker Field, the fancy new roadway out to the Mall, etc. etc. etc.

Drink your red anti-government Kool-Aid and repeat after me, “The government doesn’t create real jobs.”

The more liberal folks chugging their blue Kool-Aid are no better.

Over in Denver, Democrats in the Legislature are pushing a 5 percent preference for bidders using mostly Colorado workers on contracts with the state. They’ve not been shy about resurrecting old myths while pushing that bad idea through the Senate and on to the House.

Here’s why they’re wrong.

First is the idea that local bidders need a preference because they’re somehow at a disadvantage over outsiders. It always puzzled me, particularly with construction contracts, how a local company, with its workers and equipment already here, couldn’t outbid a competitor who had to bring in all its equipment and pay workers travel and per diem in addition to wages.

And who’s “local.” Some of our top employers aren’t headquartered here. Many that receive the biggest property tax bills and collect huge chunks of our sale tax aren’t either. Is it fair to exclude them?

Another problem is that preferential bids are fiscally irresponsible. Unless, of course, you see no hypocrisy in wanting the government to stay out of your life and keep your taxes low, except when it’s paying a premium via a local preference instead of accepting the lowest bid for goods and services it buys with your money.

Still another issue is whether lack of local preferences really hurts local workers. Even with an out-of-area general contractor, work on the Riverside Parkway, our community’s biggest ever public project, utilized local subcontractors and suppliers. 

I first ran into the preference issue as a Mesa County commissioner back in the early 1990s. Local business folks wanted an advantage over out-of-county bidders, either the ability to still win if within some specified percentage of the lowest bid or to have the ability to match that low bid. 

I asked the late Ken Nesbitt, the high school and college friend whose United Companies, under different ownership, is still one of Mesa County’s top 20 employers, if that was a good idea.

“Absolutely not,” Ken said. “Do that and all the other counties will follow suit and I can’t keep this company operating as it does with only Mesa County work.”

Preferential bidding continued to surface during my public career spanning 26 years. In any form, it’s a lousy idea despite the mythology that surrounds it.

 

Jim Spehar has drawn private sector and government wages, even signed paychecks as a private business owner, in his varied career. Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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