Gov. Dave Freudenthal said Friday he might be willing to consider expanding the amount of preferential treatment given to Wyoming contractors, making it more difficult for out-of-state companies to obtain lucrative state-funded construction contracts.
However, a spokeswoman said later in the day that Freudenthal had "no opinion" on a possible 7.5 percent cushion given to in-state contractors competing against out-of-state contractors.
Under state law, the certified resident contractor submitting the lowest bid on a project is to be awarded the contract, as long as the bid is not more than 5 percent higher than the lowest bid submitted by an out-of-state contractor.
"[Contractors] may have an argument. They talked to me once about going to 10 [percent]; I couldn't go to 10. Maybe 7 1/2, but I think the issue on the CAEDA [project] really has to do with once you mingle federal funds, you can't give them any preference," Freudenthal said.
Local construction professionals have used an ongoing dispute with CAEDA, the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance, over the use of an out-of-state contractor for a project to raise the issue of trying to give Wyoming contractors more preferential treatment.
CAEDA is renovating and adding to an existing building on the old Amoco refinery site. The $10.5 million business incubator is funded with a mix of local, state and federal funding. The use of federal tax dollars on this project prevents firms from being given any preference at all.
Freudenthal's remarks came Friday afternoon in an interview following a speech at the Governor's Summit on Workforce Solutions in Casper. Three hours later, Freudenthal spokeswoman Leigh Anne Manlove said the governor "doesn't have an opinion on 7 1/2" and that characterizing his statement as an indication he was willing to consider the higher percentage was "not an accurate reflection" of his position.
In August, when the Star-Tribune reported that half of the state's stimulus money for roads and bridges was awarded to out-of-state firms, Freudenthal said the 5 percent system was "fair" and said he couldn't support raising the preference.
"It is right to give the local guys a break, but we have two things that you're trying to do: one is the best deal for the taxpayer, which is why you bid it," Freudenthal said at the time. "The other is having work done in-state, which is what you have: 5 percent."
Josh Carnahan, president of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Wyoming, said his members would "look favorably" upon raising the preference but said it wouldn't get to the meat of the matter: what qualifies as an in-state contractor. Contractors have also taken issue with companies from Nebraska or Colorado opening small offices in Wyoming and being given in-state status.
"Our argument is, how many times do you want that money circulating in the state or do you want to send that somewhere else," Carnahan said.
After the governor's speech, he met with the Wyoming Economic Development Association, whose board president, Robert Barnes, is also the president and CEO of CAEDA.
Barnes and CAEDA have been criticized over the past week by Casper politicians and contractors for the selection of three out-of-state companies as finalists for a lucrative "construction manager" contract.
Freudenthal repeatedly declined to comment on that dispute, even though the state has $4.5 million tied into the project.
"I can't be comfortable telling people what they're supposed to sort out locally," he said. "This is clearly a really volatile issue here with really strong feelings on both sides. Whatever they decide to do, we'll just adjust to it."